Last Frenchman in north Mali refuses to leave Qaeda hotspot
A 62-year-old French national living in Mali's perilous north where five Europeans have been kidnapped in recent weeks is refusing to leave the area declared a red zone by France, he told AFP Saturday.
The man, an Islam convert, is said to be the last French national present in the vast desert north comprising the main towns of Goa, Kidal and Timbuktu, aside from French soldiers hunting for two citizens kidnapped two weeks ago.
"I refuse to leave the north of Mali. My life is here and not elsewhere. I am Muslim from now on and I call myself Ibrahim Kanga. I feel good here, and especially safe," he told AFP by telephone.
Kanga said he had been living in the area since 2006 and had invested in development there.
A government official told AFP: "We took him by force from his village but there is nothing we can do. He gave a statement, he wants to return to his village, to his wife, a Malian Muslim. They have a four-year-old child."
"In his statement he says no ransom must be paid if he is kidnapped. Obviously at our level we have taken steps to assure the security of our unusual and courageous guest."
France strictly advises against travel to the dangerous north where Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has bases and several of its citizens have been kidnapped.
On November 25 an armed gang snatched a Swede, a Dutchman and a man with dual British-South African nationality from a restaurant on Timbuktu's central square and killed a German with them who tried to resist, officials said.
A day earlier two French nationals described as a geologist and an engineer were taken from their hotel in Hombori 240 kilometres (150 miles) to the south.
Nothing is known about the kidnappers but investigators suspect they are either members of or close to AQIM which has held four Frenchmen since 2010 and intensified its activities in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria.
© 2011 AFP