Former al-Qaeda hostages urge release of Spaniards

20th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

An Italian couple released last week in northern Mali by Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) called on Tuesday for the release "as quickly as possible" of two Spaniards still held hostage.

Giving details of their conditions in captivity, the couple who were freed on Friday declared that heat was a "veritable problem".

Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual, two Spanish aid workers kidnapped on November 29, 2009 in Mauritania, are still being held by AQIM in the northern Malian desert.

States "should work as quickly as possible" to negotiate their release, said the Italian-Burkinabe Philomene Kabore, who was freed with her Italian husband, Sergio Cicala.

"The solution has to be fast, found fast, because the health of the Spaniards is in danger. They are in danger because it gets very hot" in Mali's desert, Cicala told a press briefing at the Burkinabe presidency.

Cicala, 65, and his wife, Kabore, 39, were seized on December 18 in the southeast of Mauritania, close to the Malian border. Their kidnappers then turned them over to an AQIM group in northern Mali, who freed them on Friday.

The couple arrived late Monday in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou from Mali's capital, Bamako, and they were received for more than an hour by President Blaise Compaore, to whom they went to "say thank you".

"Europe must understand that it can't find the solution on its own, it can find the solution with Burkina Faso, with Mali and other African countries," said Cicala, whose statements in Italian were translated into French by his wife.

Vilalta and Pascual, both members of the non-governmental organisation Barcelona Accio Solidaria, are beind held by one of AQIM's emirs, the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, alias Belawar, according to several sources.

Saying that they were both "very tired", Cicala and Kabore described their detention conditions.

"We were prisoners but we were never tied up. Sincerely, we were well treated, but it was very hard with the heat," Kabore said.

"We ate well, even if it wasn't great. We had water to drink, meat, we even had milk and bread for our breakfast," she added.

"What they ate, they gave us the same thing. But the heat was our real problem. (...) We made ourselves shade with blankets, with the branches of trees."

© 2010 AFP

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