France in touch with Al-Qaeda kidnappers: minister
France said for the first time Wednesday that it was in touch with Al-Qaeda kidnappers holding French hostages in Mali.
"Of course there are all kinds of contact" with the hostage-takers, who have identified themselves as members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, France's new Defence Minister Alain Juppe told Europe 1 radio, without giving more details.
"All the (French) authorities, the defence ministry, the foreign ministry, everyone is being extremely vigilant to make the necessary contact," he added -- the first public confirmation that France had contacted the kidnappers.
Asked if the hostages were believed to be safe, he added: "Currently there is every reason to believe they are."
Seven hostages -- five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan -- were seized in a Niger uranium-mining town overnight on September 15-16.
Intelligence agents in the countries concerned believe they are being held in an area of the Sahara desert in neighbouring Mali.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has told France to treat the kidnapping as a warning and that a ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in public places in France justified violence against its citizens.
© 2010 AFP