Thursday, January 03, 2013
Algerian diplomats appeal to president to help free them - TV
CAIRO (Reuters) - A pan-Arab satellite channel on Wednesday broadcast footage of three Algerian diplomats held hostage by suspected Islamist militants in Mali in which they appealed to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to secure their release.
The men were among seven diplomats seized in April while working at the Algerian consulate in Gao in northern Mali.
The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television said the footage, showing three men looking in good health and sporting beards, had been broadcast by a Mauritanian news channel.
"We appeal to the president of the republic, Mr AbdelAziz Bouteflika, to find a solution to our situation and heed the demands of the group so we can return to our families," one of the men was shown as saying.
An Algerian Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the footage, but said the government was "mobilised to release the hostages".
Algeria said in April the diplomats were kidnapped from Gao, part of a swathe of territory in northern Mali then under the control of Tuareg-led separatists who had pushed out the military in a rebellion launched in January.
Local and foreign Islamist fighters have now taken control of northern Mali, imposing strict Islamic law and destroying ancient Sufi tombs in Timbuktu, classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Algerian officials said in April the diplomats had been freed, but a Malian security source in Bamako and an Islamist fighter in Gao said at least three hostages had been freed but could not say whether the other four were also going home.
Al-Arabiya said a fourth diplomat was reported to have been killed by his abductors in September. Algeria did not confirm the report.
Western and African governments are struggling to muster a response to the crisis in Mali as politicians in the capital Bamako continue to squabble over how the country should be governed after a coup removed the president in March.
Algeria shares a border with Mali. Its diplomats may have been targeted because the Algerian government has been waging a long campaign against Islamist militants, including al Qaeda's north African wing, on its own territory.
Analysts say Algeria is concerned about the turmoil in Mali but is reluctant to intervene in what could become a lengthy and messy cross-border conflict.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)