France's Areva boss due in Niger over hostages
The head of French nuclear firm Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, will be in Niger on Thursday and Friday, after the kidnapping of seven expatriate hostages employed by the firm and a subsidiary, a presidential source said Thursday.
Lauvergeon will meet Niger's President Salou Djibo on Thursday at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) and on Friday at 6:00 pm, the source told AFP.
Areva, which has over the past few days refused to announce the date of the trip, confirmed to AFP in Paris Thursday that Lauvergon was headed for the west African state, where Areva mines uranium.
The seven expatriates, including an Areva manager and his wife, both French, and five employees of the Satom subsidiary of construction firm Vinci, which works with Areva, were kidnapped in the northern mining town of Arlit on September 16. The Satom workers include three French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the north African wing of Osama Bin Laden's organisation, has claimed responsibility for taking the hostages, and France has announced that it is ready to negotiate.
A source close to the case said Tuesday that Lauvergeon was due to go to Arlit on Friday to meet employees of Areva and Satom. Neither Areva nor the Nigerian presidency have confirmed this stage of her trip, which calls for major security measures.
Several sources have said that the seven hostages are being held in the desert north of neighbouring Mali, close to the border with Algeria, in a zone known as the Timetrine.
Areva has launched an internal inquiry into security at its site in Arlit and the circumstances of the kidnapping. The company has been accused of failing sufficiently to take into account the threats weighing over its personnel in Niger.
© 2010 AFP