/ 13 August 2003

Kidnappers allow food, medicine to European hostages

Islamic extremists holding 14 European hostages in the Sahara desert have for the first time permitted the hostages to receive supplies of food and medical supplies, sources close to the negotiations for their release said on Wednesday.

”To show their good faith, the captors have agreed to allow food and medicine to be sent to the hostages, and they say that the ball is now in the Germans’ court,” said one source.

The talks appeared to be about ransom demands made by the captors for the release of the hostages, who include nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch. Earlier reports said the captors were demanding up to five-million euros ($5,5-million) for each captive.

The 14 were among 32 Europeans seized in the southern Algerian Sahara earlier this year. Seventeen others were freed in a raid by Algerian special forces and one German woman was reported to have died in the brutal 50C heat of the desert.

Although several German officials were present in this remote area of north-east Mali, the negotiations with the abductors were being conducted on their behalf by a former Tuareg rebel chief, Iyag Ag Ghali.

”The negotiations are very advanced, and we should very quickly begin to see things more clearly,” said one source who returned from the place where the talks are being held. ”But I would not like to say when.”

At least four of the hostages, whose nationalities were not known, were reported to be seriously ill.

They are believed to be held by a faction of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, led by a former Algerian paratrooper known as Abderrezak ”the Para”.

After holding the hostages in southeast Algeria, he brought them hundreds of kilometers across the desert to this remote area of Mali. – Sapa-AFP