France says will not negotiate with Cameroon hostage-takers

Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:22pm EST
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By Nicholas Vinocur and Tiemoko Diallo

PARIS/BAMAKO (Reuters) - France said on Tuesday it would not negotiate with gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram who have taken a French family of seven hostage in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali.

The three adults and four children were kidnapped in north Cameroon near the Nigerian border last week. In a video posted online, the gunmen said France had declared war on Islam with its campaign in Mali and threatened to kill the hostages unless authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon freed militants there.

"We do not negotiate on that kind of basis, with these kind of groups," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio. "We will use all (other) possible means to ensure these and other hostages are freed."

Le Drian said the fighting was not close to an end and troops in Mali's remote mountain and desert north 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 kidnapping brought to 15 the number of French citizens held in 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.

It was the first abduction of foreigners in the mostly Muslim north of Cameroon, a former French colony. But the region - with its porous borders - is 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 recent years 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."   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