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Africa

Kidnapped French family released

Seven French citizens, seized in northern Cameroon two months ago, have just been set free. They appear to be in good health but questions remain about the circumstances of their release.

19.02.2013 DW Online Karte Kamerun Waza National Park

19.02.2013 DW Online Karte Kamerun Waza National Park

A French family with four young children, kidnapped at gunpoint in northern Cameroon, has been freed after two months in captivity at the hands of Nigerian Islamist militants. They returned to safety in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé on Friday.

DW's correspondent in Cameroon, Moki Kindzeka, said they arrived at Nsimalen airport looking tired, hungry and unkempt. Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his wife, his brother and their children Eloi, Andeol, Mael and Clarence, aged 12, 10, 8 and 5 years respectively, shook hands with officials before being driven off to the French embassy in Yaoundé.

A handful of French citizens were at the airport to greet the new arrivals, but were not given access to them. One of the well-wishers, Charlotte Dipanda, told DW she was happy the family had been released though it was "not good to stigmatize the situation and say Cameroon was a dangerous country." She added though that she did not want to go "to the border in the area where kidnappings can take place."

Captivity was long and difficult

The family were on holiday near Waza national park in north Cameroon, some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Nigerian border when they were kidnapped by armed men on motorcycles.

Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, the father of the family, gave no specifics in a brief radio interview, beyond saying the group learned their release was imminent just a few hours beforehand and that their return to safety went well.

Their two-month captivity "was long. It was difficult. It was hard physically and psychologically," he told France Inter radio. He made no comment on how they had been released.

Trockensavanne bei Waza-Nationalpark (Foto: dpa) / Eingestellt von wa

The family was on holiday near Waza national park when they were kidnapped

Cameroon's government spokesman and Minister for Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakarirnment, also sidestepped this question when it was put to him by DW on Friday.

Other officials from Cameroon and France also offered no details on how the family was freed and it was not clear whether there were concessions to the kidnappers.

Ransom doubts

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is a human rights lawyer based in Lagos and founder of the group Spaces for Change which promotes community engagement. She says intense secrecy surrounds security matters in Nigeria, but going by the character of Boko Haram it would have been "inescapable, impossible for the group to have been released without a ransom."

She added that among media circles and the human rights community there was "very strong doubt that no ransom had been paid."

Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north. They are held responsible for more than 790 deaths last year, and dozens more since the beginning of this year.

French President Francois Hollande said authorities made contact with the kidnappers of the Moulin-Fournier family through intermediaries, and negotiations intensified in recent days.

He denied any ransom had been paid.

"France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms," he said.

France has come under criticism over what diplomats and analysts say is an unofficial policy of indirectly paying ransoms through middlemen over the years.

French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, is due to meet the family in Yaoundé and said he might bring them back to France early on Saturday.

Smoke rises from the police headquarters as people run for safety in Nigeria's northern city of Kano January 20, 2012. At least six people were killed in a string of bomb blasts on Friday in Nigeria's second city Kano and the authorities imposed a curfew across the city, which has been plagued by an insurgency led by the Islamist sect Boko Haram. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the apparently coordinated attacks. REUTERS/Stringer (NIGERIA - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)IL UNREST)

The Boko Haram conflict is said to have left more than 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security services

Other French hostages still being held

Moulin-Fournier is an employee of the French gas group GDF Suez and worked in Yaoundé.

Last month, a video surfaced showing a man who appeared to be Moulin-Fournier. The man said his family was in the custody of Boko Haram which wanted all its members freed, especially women and children held in Nigerian and Cameroonian custody.

Neither the authorities in Nigeria nor Cameroon reported that any Boko Haram members were freed. Cameroon has denied it is holding any militants.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri said that if militants are released, it is possible that the information is not made available to the public.

The kidnapping on February 19 came as thousands of French troops were deeply involved in a military intervention against Islamist extremists in the West African country of Mali, and a statement by France recalled that eight other French citizens are still being held hostage in the Sahel region of Africa.

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