France Won’t Negotiate With Boko Haram, Minister Says

France won’t negotiate with the militant Islamist group Boko Haram that kidnapped seven French citizens including four children last week, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today.

“We will use all means possible to ensure the liberation of the hostages,” he said on RTL radio. “But we won’t take part in this bidding war because it’s terrorism we are dealing with here. This is the first time we have children taken hostage. It is an unacceptable situation.”

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said yesterday that the hostages are probably held in Nigeria by Boko Haram. A video posted yesterday on YouTube showed what appeared to be the French hostages sitting on the floor, including children aged between five and 12. Two masked and armed captors in camouflage are standing beside them while another is seated in front, and all three said they were part of Boko Haram.

Authorities in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous nation, have been battling an insurgency by Boko Haram that’s killed hundreds of people since 2009. The group has carried out attacks in the mainly Muslim north and Abuja, the capital. Nigeria’s population of more than 160 million has a predominantly Christian south.

“The president of France knows he has waged a war on Islam, and we have fought him everywhere,” one of the masked captors said in the video.

Militant Demands

France has about 4,000 troops in Mali, where it intervened to fight Islamists and rebel forces to restore state control over a nation that vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-biggest gold producer.

The hostages will be released only if Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan frees women linked to the group who have been captured by the authorities and if Cameroonian President Paul Biya releases their imprisoned “brothers,” one of the captors said.

“We tell you, implement all those things,” one of the masked men said, warning the hostages would be killed if their demands weren’t met.

Nigerian authorities are collaborating with the French and Cameroonian governments, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ogbole Amedu Ode said by phone today from Abuja. The tourists were seized Feb. 19 from Dabanga village, about 960 kilometers (597 miles) northeast of the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde.

Fighting between French special forces and Islamist militants is now in the “final phase” and France will start withdrawing troops in a few weeks, Le Drian said Feb. 20.

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