French hostages in Sahel 'are alive': defence minister
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that seven French citizens taken hostage by Islamist militants in Africa's Sahel region in recent years were alive.
"They are alive," Le Drian said on France 5 television, adding there had been "contacts with the hostage-takers" holding the French citizens abducted in Mali and Niger.
Concerns about the fate of the hostages have been raised since France began its military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali earlier this month.
"The hostages' families are suffering, anguished, but they know that when you are a hostage, there is a risk to your life," Le Drian said, defending France's intervention by saying it was "to avoid yet another hostage, Mali".
He said France had strengthened security at various industrial sites in the Sahel region in the wake of the Mali intervention and the deadly hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria.
The French hostages include four men seized by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) in a mining town in northern Niger in 2010, two male geologists captured in northeastern Mali in 2011 and another man taken in November in the country's west.
© 2013 AFP