Spain to stick to hostage policy after murder of Frenchman

26th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spanish officials said Monday the murder of a French hostage held by Al-Qaeda's North African wing vindicated their own non-violent approach to getting two aid workers held by the same group freed.

"The facts speak for themselves," a Spanish government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

"There has never been a Spanish military operation to try to get them released," he added.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) announced on Sunday that it had killed French hostage 78-year-old Michel Germaneau on Saturday "to avenge the killing of our six brothers in the cowardly French raid".

The news came days after French and Mauritanian soldiers stormed one of the group's camps in Mali and killed six militants.

In contrast, the Spanish official pointed to the release in March of aid worker Alicia Gamez after three months in captivity. She too had been held by an AQIM cell.

He also raised the kidnapping of a Spanish fishing vessel by pirates off the coast of Somalia in November, which also ended without loss of life, as another example of the success of Madrid's approach.

The pirates released the trawler and its 36-strong crew a little over a month later.

They said they had received a four-million-dollar (2.6-million-euro) ransom, something Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero refused to confirm.

The government of Spanish Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has not officially commented on the Franco-Mauritanian military operation in Mali against AQIM conducted last Thursday.

Spanish news reports of the Franco-Mauritanian attack on the AQIM camp said it caused "alarm" in Madrid.

According to the daily centre-right newspaper El Mundo, the Spanish government had even "disagreed" with the operation.

The Mauritanian government said the operation was carried out to prevent a "terrorist" attack in Mauritania scheduled for Wednesday.

AQIM's response however was to announce that it had executed Germaneau -- though some French officials have said they believe he may have been dead for some time already.

Madrid on Monday "firmly condemned" the killing.

It also said it would continue its efforts to free Spanish hostages Albert Vilalta, 35, and 50-year-old Roque Pascual, who were kidnapped eight months ago.

The two were abducted along with Gamez, 39, in Mauritania on November 29 while delivering aid on behalf of Barcelona-based group Accio Solidaria. They have reportedly been taken to Mali.

But their plight has raised less alarm than did the abduction of Germaneau.

Although the two Spaniards are being held by an AQIM-linked group, it is headed by Algeria's Mokhtar Belmokhtar, alias Belawar: according to Mauritanian specialists on the subject, his motives are mainly financial gain.

Spain's deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Friday that the two aid workers were "doing well".

She confirmed they were being held by a different cell than the one that was holding Germaneau.

Accio Solidaria, for its part, has made it clear it is totally opposed to any military action to rescue its two kidnapped aid workers.

"With a military operation, the life of the hostages would face many dangers," spokesman Jose Ramon Gimenez told AFP.

"The kidnappers are with them and, in an instant, they could assassinate them."

But they were worried about the emotional state of the two men, after eight months in captivity, he added.

The Spanish government has always said little about the status of its contacts with the kidnappers, stressing the need for discretion.

It has denied paying a ransom to secure the release of Gamez, though El Mundo reported at the time that her kidnappers received two million dollars.

There has been no report of progress since then in the efforts to free Vilalta and Pascual.

"We are tired after all this time, eight months, because we do not know what is the barrier to their release: a prisoner exchange, a ransom or something else," the Accio Solidaria spokesman said.

© 2010 AFP

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