France in contact with Mali hostage takers-minister


France is in contact with the kidnappers of seven hostages, including five French nationals, held by al Qaeda’s north African wing in Mali, Defence Minister Alain Juppe said.

Abdelmalek Droukdel, leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said last week Paris should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and negotiate directly with al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden if it wanted the safe release of its hostages.
“Contact exists, but the best way for it to fail is to make them (the contacts) public,” the newly appointed defence minister said on RTL radio, Reuters reports.

The seven hostages, who are employees of French companies Areva and Vinci, were taken in Niger in September and being held in a mountainous region of north-western Mali.

On the prospects of securing the release of two French journalists held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Juppe said the negotiations were going in the right direction.