March 23, 2017 / 11:39 AM / 5 months ago

Frenchman kidnapped near Chad border with Sudan's Darfur

PARIS/N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - A Frenchman was kidnapped in Chad in a remote region near the border with Sudan's Darfur region early on Thursday, France's foreign ministry said.

The man was kidnapped south of Abeche, a mining area about 800 km (500 miles) east of the capital N'Djamena, a French military source told Reuters.

There were no immediate reports of any group claiming responsibility or making demands in the area crossed by nomadic groups and rebels fighting the Sudanese government over the border in Darfur.

A source close to the matter said officials were leaning toward a criminal act rather than linking it to militancy.

Europe 1 radio said the man in his sixties had been working for a mining company and was seized carrying the staff's wages, without giving its sources.

"I confirm that a French citizen was kidnapped in Chad and we are doing everything to find him," President Francois Hollande told reporters.

"When it comes to hostages it's best to say the least possible in the interests of the person and the discussions that will take place."

Madeleine Alingue, spokeswoman for the Chadian government, said search operations were underway.

The last French national kidnapped in Chad was an aid worker taken in the eastern border area in 2009 and released nearly three months later inside Darfur.

The foreign ministry said it was working with local authorities to secure the man's freedom.

Chad, a landlocked former French colony, hosts the headquarters of France's 4,000-strong regional anti-militant operation, known as Barkhane.

It closed its northern border with Libya in January to block militants fleeing the conflict there, and has said it is worried about Islamic State operating in its territory.

Around 1,000 French troops are stationed in Chad, including a small detachment at Abeche. About 1,500 other French nationals also live in the country.

Two other French nationals are being held in Africa. One was kidnapped in Mali in December by Islamist militants and the other was seized in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier in March.

Additional reporting by Edward McAllister and John Irish; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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