Kidnappers want France out of Afghanistan

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The Al-Qaeda-linked group holding four French hostages since September is demanding French troops quit Afghanistan "over and above" a 90-million-euro ransom, a source close to the mediators said Saturday.

"AQIM is demanding above all the departure of French troops from Afghanistan to release the hostages. They are insisting on that," the source said.

The mediators comprising leading figures from both Niger and Mali are currently in a stronghold of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in an unnamed country in the region, another source familiar with the negotiations said.

"They are long and difficult negotiations, but we are hoping to obtain the release of some of the hostages soon," the source said.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has already demanded that French troops leave Afghanistan, where they are fighting with NATO-led international forces against extremist Taliban insurgents.

The four French hostages were in a group of seven captured in September last year in Niger's uranium-mining town of Arlit by AQIM, which operates across several countries in the Sahel-Sahara desert.

Three of the group -- a French woman and two Africans -- were freed on February 24 near the borders between Algeria, Mali and Niger.

France has already rejected a demand for 90 million euros and the freeing of a number of captured AQIM members for their release.

© 2011 AFP

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