Niger army still pursuing French hostages: Sarkozy

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Niger security forces seem to still be pursuing the abductors of two men snatched from a Niamey restaurant, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday, confirming the hostages are French.

But he said that the leader of a military unit which clashed with the kidnappers early Saturday had been wounded in the exchange of fire.

"Two new hostages were kidnapped yesterday evening by four armed men while they were dining in a Niamey restaurant," said Sarkozy, who is on a visit to the French Caribbean island of Martinique.

"The group was immediately pursued by Niger's national guard to stop it reaching an area of refuge, which is a serious threat to our hostages," he said.

"As I speak, it seems that the national guard is pursuing the terrorists as they head for Mali. This operation is under way."

Sarkozy repeated that Paris strongly advised French citizens to stay out of the region until security conditions improved.

The two latest French hostages added to five being held in Mali, two journalists in Afghanistan and another captive in Somalia.

Earlier Saturday Sarkozy met the family of one of the five abducted in September at Arlit in northern Niger and taken to Mali, where they are being held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

© 2011 AFP

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