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Europe

Sahara Hostage Negotiators Racing Against Time

Four of the 14 remaining European tourists held by Islamic rebels in Northern Africa are seriously ill. Renewed efforts to free the group are being taken by Malian and German officials in the northern African country.

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A respected leader of the Touareg tribe, a member of which is shown here, is chief negotiator.

New urgency has pushed negotiators in the race to free 14 European tourists being held by an Islamic group in northern Africa for more than four months.

Four of the hostage group, which includes Germans, Swiss and a Dutch national, are seriously ill and need immediate medical treatment, according to reports. The chief negotiator, a respected local tribal leader, is on his way back to a meeting with rebel Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in northern Mali this weekend and agents of Germany's Federal Investigation agency arrived in the Malian capital of Barmako.

The hostages are the remnants of a group of 32 European adventure vacationers taken hostage by the Islamic rebel group in southeastern Algeria in late February and early March. Algeria security forces were able to free 17 tourists, including six Germans, in May after attacking the group's hideout.

No hostages were killed in the attack, but a 46-year-old German woman reportedly died of heatstroke in late July.

Since the attack, the hostage-takers have moved the remaining hostages into northern Mali and officials have been at pains to release as little news as possible about the situation.

More than €4 million for each hostage

Negotiations to secure their freedom have been ongoing. German media reported that government officials received a video of the hostages taken around July 20 which show them in good condition. Earlier this month, German negotiators had several telephone conversations with the hostage-takers.

Since then, however, the government has entrusted the fate of the four Germans to Ag Agaly, a respected leader in the Touareg nomadic tribe who knows the terrain where the hostages are being held.

"The negotiations are tough and time is pressing," a member of the Mali negotiating team told the wire service AFP over the weekend. The Islamic group has reportedly made new demands. German and Swiss government officials were already frustrated after the hostage-takers asked for ransom money reported as more than 60 million euro.