'Gunmen in Niger uniforms' fought French troops: Paris
Unidentified gunmen in the uniform of the Niger gendarmerie fought against French commandos during a failed hostage rescue bid last weekend in Mali, the French defence ministry said Thursday.
The latest claim from Paris threw further confusion on the already murky circumstances of Saturday's battle in the Sahara, after which French special forces found the bodies of two 25-year-old French hostages.
"The people in the Niger gendarmerie uniforms did not have their hands tied, and were carrying weapons. They participated in the action against our forces," said defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire.
In addition to the two dead hostages, the French force found the bodies of four more people after they ambushed a suspected Al-Qaeda kidnapping gang as it crossed the border into Mali, two of which were in Niger uniform.
Two wounded combattants in the same uniform were also found, and were handed over to Bamako authorities, he said.
The spokesman would not be drawn on whether France believes the men to have been Niger personnel corruptly working with the hostage takers, or whether they were simply Al-Qaeda operatives in disguise.
"It is for Niger to give its response," he said.
French officials had previously said they handed two wounded Al-Qaeda suspects to Niger authorities, but Niger denies this. It was not clear if these two suspects were in fact the wounded men in uniform.
© 2011 AFP