French hostages probably separated, Hollande says

Thu Feb 21, 2013 1:30pm EST
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By Elizabeth Pineau and Ibrahim Mshelizza

PARIS/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Seven French hostages abducted by suspected Nigerian Islamist militants have probably been separated into two groups and efforts are continuing to locate them, French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday.

French, Nigerian and Cameroonian officials earlier denied French media reports that the seven family members, who were seized in Cameroon on Tuesday and taken over the border, had been freed.

"It's best to work discreetly for now to identify the exact place where our citizens are being held - most likely in two groups - and work out how we can free them under the best conditions," Hollande told reporters.

Paris was "fully cooperating" with Nigeria and Cameroon, he added, noting that French troops were nearby as their base was in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, 150 km (93 miles) away.

The Nigerian military located the hostages and kidnappers between Dikwa and Ngala in the far northeast, a Nigerian military source in Borno said earlier on Thursday, asking not to be identified.

Dikwa is less than 80 km (50 miles) from the border with Cameroon where the three adults and four children were taken hostage on Tuesday.

A senior Cameroonian military official declined to comment, saying the matter was too sensitive.

French gendarmes backed by special forces arrived in northern Cameroon on Wednesday to help locate the family, a local governor and French defense ministry official said.   Continued...

French President Francois Hollande holds his notes as he attends a conference on "Civil servants in Dictatorial Europe" at the Sorbonne in Paris February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer