No trace of kidnapped Spaniards, Italian in Mali: minister

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A Malian minister said Monday there was no trace of three hostages kidnapped in neighbouring Algeria in his country, after the Polisario Front claimed those seized had been taken to Mali.

Two Spaniards and an Italian were kidnapped from a refugee camp in Algeria on Sunday, mainly inhabited by Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara who seek greater autonomy.

Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement said they were taken by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants from Mali, where the terrorist network has several bases, and often holds western hostages.

"To date, there is no trace of the European hostages in northern Mali," a government minister told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The kidnapping of the European hostages took place in territory the Polisario Front claims to control, it is thus under their responsability that these events took place."

He said the accusations were an attempt to "settle the score" after members of the Polisario Front were recently arrested in Mali for drug trafficking.

"We have alerted our troops to assist in finding the hostages. The fight against terrorism, hostage-takers and insecurity is a problem for all. We must combine the efforts of all countries of the Maghreb, Sahara and Sahel to succeed."

Spanish media identified the Spanish hostages as Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons -- who was believed to be wounded during the kidnapping. The Italian foreign ministry identified the Italian as Rossella Urru, who works for the Italian Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP).

AQIM, which has its roots in Algeria, has camps in Mali which it uses as a launchpad to carry out armed attacks and kidnappings in the Sahel desert region where the group is also involved in arms and drugs trafficking.

Some hostages have ended up dead after failed negotiations or rescue efforts, while others have been released, with huge ransoms believed to be in play.

AQIM is currently holding four French citizens kidnapped in northern Niger in September 2010.

© 2011 AFP

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