Mali hostages urge govts to negotiate their release -Jazeera TV


Three Western hostages seized by al Qaeda militants in Mali last year have urged their governments to negotiate their release, Al Jazeera television reported, showing what it said was footage of the captives.

The three men appeared in good condition in the video broadcast by Al Jazeera on Tuesday night and posted on its website.

The hostages – Sjaak Rijke from the Netherlands, Stephen Malcolm, who has dual South African and British citizenship, and Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson – were seized on Nov. 25 while walking along a street in the northern Malian town of Timbuktu. A fourth person in the group was killed, Reuters reports.

The kidnapping took place weeks before secular and Islamist rebels, some with links to al Qaeda, took up arms against Mali’s government. The insurgents later took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to take control of the country’s desert north.

In the footage, Al Jazeera showed the three men arrive on vehicles used by the militants, then walk around and sit down. Their voices could not be heard, and appeared to have been dubbed over with a reporter’s voice, quoting them as saying they were being treated well and demanding their governments to negotiate their release.

A still picture on the website of the Qatar-based satellite network showed the three men, all sporting long beards and wearing traditional clothes worn by local tribesmen, sitting on rugs laid out in a desert hollow, surrounded by masked gunmen dressed entirely in black.

In a video seen by Reuters in July, the three men appeared before a flag similar to ones used by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine which, along with al Qaeda faction MUJWA, now controls two-thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes Timbuktu.

Al Qaeda in North Africa said in December it had carried out the kidnapping. It has also said it was holding six Frenchmen – two abducted from their hotel in the northern Mali town of Hombori in November, the other four kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday the six were alive, but had been separated.