Fears grow for French hostage after failed Mali raid

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Authorities expressed growing fears for the fate of a French hostage on Sunday after a failed military raid on a camp in Mali where an Al-Qaeda-linked gang was believed to be holding him.

French and Mauritanian troops launched a secret operation in the Sahara desert on Thursday aimed at rescuing kidnapped aid worker Michel Germaneau, 78, but there was no sign of him, officials said.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has given France until Monday to help secure the release of its jailed members in the region, warning that the aid worker will be executed if Paris fails to comply.

Malian security sources said concern for Germaneau's safety was at its peak.

"The news on Germaneau is not good," one Malian security source told AFP. "We are very worried at the moment as there are false rumours and bad information circulating about his fate."

The French foreign ministry said on Sunday that the kidnappers refused to negotiate.

"Since the kidnapping of our compatriot, the kidnappers have, despite the efforts of the French authorities, refused all dialogue and have not made any precise demands," the ministry said in a statement.

Six members of AQIM, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, were killed in Thursday's raid, but while soldiers found arms and documents there was no evidence that Germaneau had been held there.

A French defence ministry source said Saturday that there had been no proof of life and no negotiations since May 14, while the kidnappers had also refused to give medication to Germaneau, who has a heart condition.

The mayor of the Paris region where Germaneau lives said he believed that the hostage's chances of survival were slim.

"Either Michel Germaneau has been executed, or the terrorists are about to do it," Olivier Thomas, the mayor of Marcoussis, told AFP.

Germaneau was kidnapped in April in Niger and officials believed he was subsequently taken to Mali.

AQIM has also been held responsible for the murder of British hostage Edwin Dyer, 60, who was kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the Sahel region bordering the Sahara desert in January 2009.

© 2010 AFP

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