Mali calls for desert security after hostages freed
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali called for a crackdown to end insecurity across the Sahara and Sahel on Thursday, a day after it secured the release of four Western hostages held by al Qaeda for months in the remote West African desert.
Mali said it did not pay any ransom to free the two Canadian diplomats, a Swiss and a German tourist but President Amadou Toumani Toure praised neighboring Burkina Faso for its help and urged action to free the two remaining tourists.
The kidnapping of the Canadians in Niger and the four tourists on the Mali-Niger border has highlighted the mounting threats of insecurity across the desert region, where a mixture of traffickers, nomadic rebels and Islamist gunmen operate.
"It is time we take action. We cannot just sit here with our arms crossed, finding solutions to free people," Toure said after meeting the former hostages in Bamako, the Malian capital.
"We must first work to free the two who are still being held and then we must also work to put an end to the dangers and threats across the Sahel and the Sahara," he added, giving no details on how the proposed crackdown would work.
The Canadian diplomats -- sporting grey beards, sun-glasses and dark suits -- and the two female tourists -- one of whom limped and had a bandaged leg and arm -- met Toure after being handed to local authorities in the remote northeast of Mali.
Canadian Robert Fowler, a United Nations envoy to Niger, disappeared with his aide just north of Niamey in December. The tourists -- two Swiss, a German and a Briton -- were kidnapped as they returned from a music festival in January.
Few details have emerged about the release but an official in Toure's office said Mali had paid not paid any ransom. Instead, Toure thanked neighboring Burkina Faso for its role in the process, without giving any further details.
Diplomats thanked Mali for its help in securing the release.
Al Qaeda's North African wing had previously said it was holding the hostages and had demanded 20 of its members be freed from detention in Mali and other countries as a condition for releasing the hostages.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland)
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