France asks for Mali's help in hostage release
The French government has asked Mali to help in obtaining the release of seven hostages taken by Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Niger and transferred to Mali, a source in Mali's presidency said Friday.
"France has officially asked for Mali's help in freeing the hostages," the source told AFP.
The seven hostages -- five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan -- were seized in a Niger uranium-mining town on the night of September 15 to September 16 and are believed by intelligence agents in countries concerned to be held in a northern Mali desert zone.
Mali's help would consist, with the aid of intermediaries, in facilitating possible negotiations between France and the kidnappers, who come from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which claims to be the north African branch of Osama Bin Laden's organisation.
The French request to Bamako was announced after AQIM on Thursday issued a photo of the hostages, along with an audiotape made available to Al-Jazeera television, in which the hostages gave their names, ages, marital status and confirmed that they were being held by AQIM. The hostages include a French married couple.
The photograph shows them seated on the sand in desert terrain, with armed men standing behind them and sitting beside them.
According to a Malian source, the hostages are "detained between the Malian and Algerian deserts" in the Timetrine zone, a region of arid hills in the far northeast of Mali, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Algerian border.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin on Friday said that Paris has still not received any precise demands from AQIM.
© 2010 AFP