UPDATE 3-Four French hostages kidnapped in Niger freed

Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:01pm EDT
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* Frenchmen had been held for three years by al Qaeda

* Hostages to return on Wednesday, boost for Hollande

* Seven French hostages still held overseas

By Kader Mazou and John Irish

NIAMEY/PARIS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Four French hostages kidnapped in Niger by al Qaeda's north African wing have been released following secret talks with officials from the West African country, ending three years in captivity.

Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol and Marc Feret were kidnapped by AQIM in September 2010 while working for French nuclear group Areva and a subsidiary of construction group Vinci in Arlit in Niger.

Any conditions of the release were not immediately clear, but, speaking to French television on Tuesday on his arrival in Niamey to collect the men and take them home, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denied the government had paid a ransom.

A regional official close to the negotiations said Mohamed Akotey, a former Nigerien minister, who had been chairman of the board of Imouraren, a new mine Areva is building in northern Niger, had led the negotiations for the past year.

Regional weekly magazine Jeune Afrique citing senior Niger sources said Atokey and the head of Niger's intelligence services had travelled by helicopter on Tuesday to northern Mali after receiving a green light from the hostage takers.   Continued...