Bamako: Malian negotiators said on Saturday they were still hopeful a Frenchman kidnapped in Mali by the north African branch of al Qaeda will not be executed, just as an ultimatum set by the group runs out.
There were "a few hours until the ultimatum is over, and negotiators are doing everything to save the life of the Frenchman, Pierre Camatte," a top Malian negotiator said. "We are still hopeful".
The 61-year-old Camatte, from the Vosges area in eastern France, was a regular visitor to Mali, where he cultivates a plant known for its anti-malaria properties.
Camatte was abducted from his hotel in Menaka, more than 1,500 kilometres from the capital Bamako, during the night of November 25 and he is among six Europeans being held by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
AQIM has threatened to execute the Frenchman if four of its members detained in Mali were not released by January 30.
AQIM also kidnapped three Spanish volunteers, two men and a women, who were travelling in Mauritania in a convoy delivering humanitarian aid to west Africa on November 29.
They have been identified as Albert Vilalta, 35, Alicia Gamez, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, working on behalf of Spanish group Barcelona Accio Solidaria.
Spain`s El Mundo newspaper reported that AQIM was demanding USD 7 million and the release of several of its members in return for the three Spaniards.
In the last week, four suspects involved in the Spanish kidnap have been arrested in Mauritania, security sources said today.