A video calling on al Qaeda’s North African wing to provide information on six French hostages has been criticised by some of the captives’ families, who argue that their release is in the hands of the French government.
The brother of one of six French hostages being held by al Qaeda in North Africa’s Sahel region has released a video appealing to the kidnappers for information, and for a return to the negotiating table with the French government.
The move has angered some of the hostages’ families, who say they were not consulted about the appeal and insist that it is the French government – and not the hostage-takers – that hold the key to getting the six released.
The hostages are being held by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Four of them, employees of French nuclear energy giant Areva, were taken hostage in September 2010 in Niger. The other two were kidnapped in November 2011 in north-eastern Mali.
The appeal has the support of the families of three of the hostages, who say they are “exasperated” at the lack of information.
Frédéric Cauhapé, the brother-in-law of hostage Marc Féret, told AFP: “After 27 months, we still don’t have any news.”
In the video, Clément Legrand, brother of hostage Pierre Legrand, tells the kidnappers: “We don’t understand why everything is blocked.”
But the video appeal does not have the support of all the hostages’ families.
At a press conference Friday to call on French President François Hollande to act and to provide more information, former AQIM hostage Francoise Larribe, whose husband Daniel is still being held, said she “did not want to put her name to the video appeal” and that she had “formally opposed it.”
Pascal Lupart, who represents a support group for the families of Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon, taken hostage in Mali in 2011 while they were on a business trip, told AFP: “I don’t see what the point of this appeal is. If there is anyone to appeal to, it is certainly not the kidnappers.
“Considering the French support of a military intervention in Mali [to oust an Islamist takeover of the region] the hostages are obviously being used as human shields. The president has it in his power to act and to remedy this situation.”
He added: “We’ve got no doubt that behind all this is a reluctance by the French government to pay for their release.”
France’s support for military intervention
Although four of the hostages were taken well before the coup that sparked the separatist takeover of North Mali, AQIM says it is holding them because France is a leading supporter of military intervention to reclaim the region from Islamist groups MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).
The two groups swept into Mali's northern cities after a coup in March 2012, on the flanks of a separatist rebellion by Tuareg desert nomads.
The two groups swiftly ousted their secular Tuareg allies and set about imposing brutal Sharia law on the population, prompting some 400,000 people to flee their homes.
MUJAO and Ansar Dine have ties to AQIM, whose involvement and presence in the occupation has increased.
France, which has said it will not contribute ground troops if there is a military intervention, is backing West African efforts to send in 3,300 troops to take northern Mali, a region the size of France, back from the Islamists.
The intervention plan is awaiting approval from the United Nations.
Date created : 2012-12-09