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Europe

Sahara Kidnappers Prepared to Negotiate Directly

Algerian Islamic rebels who are holding 14 Europeans hostage in Mali are reportedly ready to negotiate directly with the German or Malian governments.

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The hostages were moved to Mali in July.

With the hostage takers preferring direct links to either German or Malian officials, the current mediator would no longer be involved in negotiations to free the Europeans, according to German broadcaster ARD.

The station’s correspondent in the Bamako, Mali said he had received the information from an "important" Malian politician with good contacts to the north of the country, where the nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch national are being held.

The German government had entrusted a respected Tuareg nomad with negotiations to free the hostages, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Tuesday. The paper said Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Agaly was already on his way to the kidnappers hideout in northern Mali. The German Foreign Ministry was unwilling to confirm the report.

No ransom payments

Although the German government has said that it will not pay ransom for the release of the hostages, there has been some speculation that the kidnappers have demanded €64.4 million ($73.4 million) to free the Europeans.

The kidnappers took a total of 32 European vacationers hostage in southern Algeria in late February and early March. They are thought to be part of the Salafist Group for preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has been fighting against the Algerian authorities to create a radical Islamic state.

On Wednesday, the Algerian newspaper El Watan said the head of the hostage takers was a Abderrezak Amari, a leading member of the GSPC. Amari is considered second in command of the group and was a paratrooper in the Algerian army, according to the paper. He was identified by one of the mediators involved in negotiations to free the captives.

Seventeen of the tourists were freed in May when Algerian troops attacked a desert hideout, killing several kidnappers in the process. The other group moved in late July to Mali, where it is believed they are staying in a remote area where the borders of Algeria, Mali and Mauritania meet.

A 46-year-old German hostage died of heatstroke in July.

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