Gao: Al-Qaeda's north African branch is demanding at least 90 million euros in ransom for
the release of four French hostages held since September, a source close to mediators said.
The French government rejected the demand, which also
included the freeing of prisoners from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) being held in France and elsewhere.
"The kidnappers are demanding at least 90 million euros
(128 million dollars) to release the four French hostages
still being held," said the Niger source close to talks taking
place in northern Mali.
"They also want the release of AQIM prisoners taken in
several countries, including France," the source said.
The four Frenchmen were among seven people kidnapped in
September 2010 in neighbouring Niger's remote uranium-mining
town of Arlit and then taken into Mali.
Three of them -- a Togolese, a Madagascan national and
the ailing French wife of an executive who is among the group
still held -- were freed on February 25 after a ransom was
paid, according to a source close to negotiations.
The men all worked for France's Areva, a world leading
nuclear energy company, or one of its subsidiaries.
The abduction was claimed by AQIM whose leader warned
France to pull its troops out of Afghanistan if it wanted to
see the safe return of the French hostages.
On November 18 it urged France to negotiate the fate of
the captives directly with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,
but this was rejected by Paris which stated that its foreign
policy would not be dictated from outside.
Other sources close to the mediation talks confirmed that
a ransom and release of prisoners had been demanded. "I can
tell you that everyone is mobilised to obtain the release of
the hostages," the Niger source said.
"We expect long and difficult negotiations. But there is
hope," a Malian close to the mediation said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe rejected the ransom
demand. "We do not negotiate on these bases," he said on the
sidelines of a meeting in Brussels.
The north African branch of Al-Qaeda operates in a vast
desert area across Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where
it carries out attacks, trafficking and kidnapping of
On March 4 the chairwoman of the Areva group, Anne
Lauvergeon, said that she had "high hopes" of seeing the
remaining French hostages returning to France "as soon as
First Published: Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 12:02