France says will not negotiate with Cameroon hostage-takers

Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:39am EST
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PARIS (Reuters) - France will not negotiate with gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram who have taken a French family of seven hostage, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.

The three adults and four children were seized in north Cameroon near the Nigerian border last week. In a video posted online, the gunmen threatened to kill them unless authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon freed Islamist militants held there.

The kidnapping brought to 15 the number of French citizens held in central and west Africa and highlighted the danger to French nationals and interests in the region since Paris sent troops to Mali last month to help oust Islamist rebels.

Le Drian said the fighting in Mali was not close to an end and troops were facing stiff resistance from the "strongest and most organized" rebels, underscoring the risk of French and African forces becoming entangled in a messy guerrilla war.

The French defence minister deplored the fact children were among the hostages seized in Cameroon and ruled out talks with their captors, saying: "We do not play this bidding game because that's terrorism."

"We do not negotiate on that kind of basis, with these kind of groups," he told RTL radio. "We will use all (other) possible means to ensure these and other hostages are freed."

The abduction was the first case of foreigners being seized in the mostly Muslim north of Cameroon, a former French colony. But the region - with typically porous borders - is considered within the operational sphere of Boko Haram and fellow Nigerian Islamist militants Ansaru.

Boko Haram, one of a number of al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, has killed hundreds of people in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria.

"The principle of terrorism is the same whether you are in Somalia with the Al Shabaab, in Mali with Ansar Dine or in Nigeria with Boko Haram or Ansaru," Le Drian said. "It's the same system, the same methods, which threaten us here in France and so we must eradicate them."   Continued...

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a meeting on the situation in Mali, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer