Mali kidnapping won't pressurize France: Hollande

Wed Nov 21, 2012 9:57am EST
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By Tiemoko Diallo and John Irish

BAMAKO/PARIS (Reuters) - France will not be pressurized by the kidnapping of a French citizen in southwest Mali, President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday, stressing the hostage had not been seized in the Islamist-controlled north.

The kidnapping may increase tensions as African nations draw up plans to intervene in Mali where almost two-thirds of the country fell under Islamist hands after a coup earlier this year.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Hollande appeared to single out al Qaeda's north African arm, which already holds six French nationals in the Sahara region.

"We will do everything to find our citizens," Hollande told a joint news conference with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in Paris.

"For the terrorists, capturing a hostage is a way to put pressure on us, but it won't weigh on us. I have already told the hostage takers that it was time to free them (hostages)."

The French man crossed into Mali from Mauritania by car on Tuesday morning and was taken by armed men near the Malian town of Kayes, close to the border of both Mauritania and Senegal, according to Mauritanian state press agency AMI.

The north of Mali is controlled by Islamist groups that collect millions of dollars from smuggling and kidnap ransoms, but they typically operate much further to the north in a vast and lawless desert abandoned by government forces since a Tuareg rebellion and March coup d'etat.

European leaders are growing increasingly anxious that Mali could turn into a platform for militant attacks, including in Europe. Paris is the most vocal supporter of a planned international intervention aimed at wresting the territory from the Islamists' control.   Continued...