France is ready to negotiate with the al-Qaeda-linked group that holds seven hostages in the Sahara desert, Defense Minister Herve Morin said.
“We are waiting for the demands of al-Qaeda in order to discuss” the matter, Morin said in an interview today with Canal-Plus television.
The hostages, five workers from Vinci SA’s Satom subsidiary and one Areva SA employee and his wife, were kidnapped Sept. 16 in Arlit, near a uranium mine in northern Niger, the companies have said. French officials say they think they’ve been moved to somewhere in Mali. Five of the hostages are French, one is Togolese, and one Madagascan.
Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, a terror group that operates in the southern Sahara desert, has issued two statements claiming the kidnapping.
France has sent two reconnaissance aircraft to Niger to help locate the hostages.
“As in all hostage cases, negotiations are complex, they are difficult, they are uncertain,” Morin said. “I am not more optimistic than yesterday, but I’m not more pessimistic either.”
Agence France-Presse reported over the weekend that an unnamed Malian said he’d seen the hostages, and that they are alive.
The group killed a 78-year old French hostage in July after French and Mauritanian soldiers attacked an AQIM base in Mali. Morin said that in that case, AQIM never entered into negotiations over his release.