France offers Al Qaeda talks, no plans to rescue hostages
France has no plans to use force to rescue five hostages held in the Sahara by Al-Qaeda and wants to negotiate with the militant group, the country's senior military officer said Friday.
There were five French nationals among seven foreign hostages kidnapped last week in a uranium mining town in Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the local wing of Osama bin Laden's global jihadist network.
"Military intervention is not, at the moment I am speaking to you, on the agenda," Admiral Edouard Guillaud told Europe 1 radio.
"Of course, French authorities are ready to make contact at any moment, the only problem we have is that, as is usual in this kind of matter, it is the hostage-takers who control the timetable," he said.
Guillaud was talking one day after French Defence Minister Herve Morin revealed that France was attempting to get in touch with Al-Qaeda to discover if they have any ransom demands following the hostage-taking.
French authorities suspect the AQIM cell which carried out the kidnap has taken the hostages -- five French citizens including a married couple, a Togolese and a Madagascan -- to a remote region of northern Mali.
Paris has deployed an 80-strong military intelligence unit and spotter planes to the Sahara to try to track the gang down, but officials have thus far played down the likelihood of a military rescue mission.
In July, French and Mauritanian commandos assaulted an Al-Qaeda base in northern Mali, killing seven militants but failing to find a previous French hostage, who has since been reported killed by AQIM.
"For the moment we are just establishing what the situation is in a hurry and, as in all hostage-taking situations, the military is on hand to support diplomatic efforts," Guillaud said.
AQIM has claimed responsibility for the latest kidnap, arguing in a message broadcast on the Al-Jazeera satellite news network that it was carried out in revenge for July's special forces raid.
The group has said that what it calls its "legitimate demands" will be sent to France in due time, and has warned Paris not to attempt a rescue.
© 2010 AFP