Left to right: Iyad Ag Ghaly, infamous mayor Baba Ould Cheikh, Mohamed Ag Mahmoud and El Hadj Ag Gamou

PARIS, France—Kidnappers in Mali have released a mayor in northern Mali known for serving as a mediator for Western hostages.   said Sunday he has been freed after being held captive for around three weeks.

“All I can say for now is that I am free,” Tarkint mayor Baba Ould Cheikh announced to media groups by telephone.  Adding, “I’m at home now,” he said.

The mayor’s relative also confirmed his release, saying that he had seen Mayor Cheikh earlier in the day, adding that the mayor’s  abduction by six gunmen between January 21 and 23 had been due to “a private matter”.

Highly placed security sources maintained that at the time that the mayor’s abduction took occurred  it could have been done either “by people he had a disagreement with or Islamists.”

The government of Mali signed a peace commitment with the coalitions of non-jihadist armed groups in the north in June 2015. Despite the agreement, Islamist insurgents remain active, and huge tracts of the ex-French colony are lawless.

Globe Afrique learned from the UN drug agency that the mayor had been named in an investigation regarding a drug-smuggling operation in 2009 that involved a Boeing 727 that flown from Venezuela and burnt after unloading the cargo in the northern Gao region.

The mayor was arrested for cocaine trafficking in April 2013 but released months later due to lack of evidence, according to police records.