France defends kidnap policy after hostage deaths
France insisted Tuesday that it has not changed its policy of attempting to peacefully resolve kidnappings, after two French hostages died during a failed special forces rescue attempt.
France has had a reputation for trying to negotiate with or to buy off kidnappers, but on Saturday its commandos went into action against suspected Al-Qaeda operatives on the Niger-Mali border.
Two young French citizens who had been kidnapped the day before died during the operation, falling victim to what French officials have said appears to have been a cold-blooded murder as their would-be rescuers closed in.
The deaths have led some in France to question the state's decision to use force rather than to seek to negotiate, but Prime Minister Francois Fillon denied that the assault marked a permanent change in tactics.
"We have not changed strategy, and France will not be trapped in a binary logic. On every hostage-taking we study the possibility of mounting a rescue operation," Fillon told the National Assembly.
"We can't just have one stance. Of course we defend our values and reject the blackmail of terrorists, but at the same time we value our citizens' lives and when we must we will engage in talks to ensure their safety."
Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, both aged 25, were kidnapped on Friday from a restaurant in the Niger capital Niamey and taken by gunmen across the desert towards the Malian border.
French surveillance planes tracked the gang's flight, and Niger's security forces attempted to intercept them. Three local troops were killed and four seriously wounded in clashes with the gunmen.
Once the kidnappers had crossed the frontier French commandos struck. Two lawmakers briefed by Fillon said they had been told that "four terrorists" were killed and two others captured and brought back to Niamey.
But the hostages were also dead. An investigation is continuing, but Fillon has said that initial information indicates they were deliberately executed by the Islamist faction Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
© 2011 AFP