French tour operator cancels Sahara flights

22nd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Tour operator Point Afrique said Wednesday it would no longer fly to most of its destinations in the Sahel area of West Africa following a spate of Al-Qaeda-linked kidnappings in the region.

"We decided on Monday to stop everything. A few weeks ago, we still thought that tourism brought peace and economic activity. Today we don't want to be a supplier of hostages," Point Afrique's boss Maurice Freund told journalists.

The move came after the latest kidnapping which saw Al-Qaeda militants last week kidnap seven expat workers, including five French nationals, employed by French nuclear giant Areva at Arlit in Niger.

"If Areva can't protect its employees, how can we?" said Freund.

Three of the cancelled destinations are in southern Algeria -- Tamanrasset, Djanet and Timimoune -- along with Agadez in Niger, Atar in Mauritania and Gao in Mali. The company will continue to fly to Mopti, in Mali.

In 2007, Point Afrique flew around 70,000 people into the region, including holidaymakers and aid workers. Last year, there were only 35,000, Freund said.

The company had last year defied a foreign ministry request to stop flying to several destinations in the area "but now it's too serious", he said, adding that the influence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was spreading.

As a result of the cancellations, Point Afrique will have to sack most of its staff, while the local population will also suffer as hundreds of families, depend on the tourists for income, he said.

© 2010 AFP

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