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Germany

Kidnapped European Sahara Tourists Reportedly Free

Fourteen European tourists, held hostage by Algerian militants in the Sahara Desert for more than five months, were expected to be heading home on Monday. But the official handover has been delayed by bad weather.

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Some of the missing tourists on a poster published by the German Federal Criminal Office.

German negotiators in the West African country of Mali said on Sunday the kidnapped tourists, among them Germans, Dutch and Swiss, were expected to arrive in the capital Bamako around noon on Monday.

But according to the German news agency DPA, heavy rains and poor coordination had delayed the transfer of the hostages to Malian officials.

German public television channel ZDF reported on Monday the hostages were in reasonably good health. But a ZDF reporter in Bamako said the 14 were naturally exhausted after their almost six-month ordeal in the desert. They are expected to be treated in hospitals in the Malian capital before being flown home.

Earlier German Deputy Foreign Minister Jürgen Chrobog, who arrived in Mali for a second visit in four days with a plane ready to take the hostages homes, was optimistic. "I wouldn't be here if he didn't have high hopes. But we're prepared for everything," he told reporters. He said the German government had "prepared the ground to get them (the hostages) home," he stressed.

The tourists, who include nine Germans, four Swiss and a Dutch national, are expected to land in Germany by Monday evening. However politicians in Germany were playing down the optimism evident in media reports on Monday. Foreign policy spokesman for the Green party, Ludger Volmer, said in a radio interview that things could "still go badly wrong and that’s why one shouldn’t rejoice too soon."

The 14 were among 32 European tourists seized in separate incidents in February and March this year while travelling in southern Algeria. Algerian commandos managed to free 17 of the hostages, by killing their kidnappers belonging to the Islamist outfit, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. One of the hostages, a 46-year-old German woman died of heatstroke on June 28.

After the shootout, the remaining hostages were moved to neighboring Mali last month. German and Malian negotiators have been in contact with the kidnappers, who according to German media reports say want $5 million for each hostage. There were no reports on the outcome of the ransom negotiations.

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin refused on Monday to comment on any aspect of the expected releason of the hostages.

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