Tuaregs kidnap Western tourists, says Mali official

Tuareg rebels in eastern Mali have abducted a group of foreign tourists on the border with Niger. They included two Swiss, one German and a Briton, a senior Malian military officer said.


AFP - Unknown assailants kidnapped a group of European tourists on Thursday, including two Swiss, one German and a Briton, in Niger near the Malian border, a regional governor in Mali said.

"We just finished the latest verification and there are a total of four European tourists kidnapped on Niger's territory close to the border with Mali: one German national, one British national and two Swiss nationals," General Amadou Baba Toure, governor of Gao province, told AFP.

The group had been returning from a festival of nomad culture at Anderamboukane, on the border between Mali and Niger, when they were seized, the Malian authorities said.

A source in the Malian security forces confirmed the kidnapping, adding that it took place at Bani-Bangou, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the border with Mali.

Germany's foreign ministry confirmed it had received information that a German woman had disappeared in Mali.

"The foreign ministry and the (German) embassy in Bamako are following information that a German woman disappeared today in the middle of the day in Mali," a ministry spokesman told AFP.

"They are trying to shed light on what happened."

In London, Britain's foreign ministry said it had heard the reports of the kidnapping but could not confirm British nationals were involved.

The north of Mali has been the scene of violent clashes between Tuareg rebel groups and the Malian army in recent years.

The Tuaregs are a nomadic desert people who have roamed the southern Sahara for centuries. In recent years they have staged uprisings in both Mali and Niger, claiming autonomy for their traditional homeland.

Two Canadian diplomats, one of them the United Nations envoy to Niger, disappeared in Niger in early December and are presumed kidnapped.

The car UN envoy Robert Fowler and his assistant Louis Guay were travelling in was discovered on December 15 at the side of the road in an apparently trouble-free area close to the capital Niamey. It's engine was running and the vehicle's doors were wide open.

Last week Niger's President Mamadou Tandja said the diplomats were being held by terrorist groups.

"All the investigations undertaken indicate they are being held hostage by terrorist groups," Tanja said, referring to Tuareg rebel groups operating in the north of the country.

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