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Latest update : 2009-04-22

Two Canadian diplomats, including the UN envoy to Niger, Robert Fowler (photo), have been released along with two of the four European tourists held by al Qaeda's north African wing. Fowler and his aide had been missing since last December.

Reuters - Two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists held hostage by al Qaeda's north African wing in the Sahara desert have been released, a spokesman for Mali's president said on Wednesday.
"We confirm the release of four hostages," Seydou Cissouma, a spokesman for Mali's president, told Reuters. He said they were two Canadian diplomats and two female tourists.
Canadian Robert Fowler, a United Nations envoy to Niger, disappeared with his aide last December while four tourists --two Swiss, a German and a Briton -- were kidnapped on the Mali-Niger border in January.
Earlier this month, a Malian security source said a team of mediators was negotiating the release of the European tourists.
Sources at the United Nations confirmed Fowler and his assistant Louis Guay were free but they said they were awaiting further details.
The Canadian government has not yet confirmed the release. "We are aware of these media reports and have no comment at this time," said a Canadian foreign affairs spokeswoman.
Al Qaeda's north African wing had said it was holding the four tourists, who were taken from Mali into neighbouring Saharan state Niger, as well as the two Canadians.
The group had demanded 20 of its members be freed from detention in Mali and other countries as a condition for releasing the hostages.
Malian officials initially blamed Tuareg rebels active in the Sahara for the January abduction. Military sources in the West African country say al Qaeda hires the nomadic rebels and other armed groups to carry out kidnappings.
The January capture was the worst such incident in Mali since Islamist rebels abducted 32 European tourists in 2003.

Date created : 2009-04-22