Europe

France rejects 'Bin Laden talks' to free hostages

Abdelmalek Droukdel, alias Abdel Moussab Abdelwadoud, head of the militant group which took the hostages in Niger
Image caption Mr Droukdel said talks should be on Bin Laden's terms

France has rejected demands by an al-Qaeda group in northern Africa that it should negotiate the release of five French hostages and two others with Osama Bin Laden.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France would not let its policy be dictated from outside.

The hostages were seized at a uranium mine in Niger in September.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abdelmalek Droukdel also called for French troops to leave Afghanistan.

In an audio recording believed to have been made by Mr Droukdel, who uses the alias Abdel Moussab Abdelwadoud, and broadcast by the al-Jazeera satellite network, he said France should "hasten and take your soldiers out of Afghanistan according to a specific timetable that you announce officially".

"Any form of negotiations on [the hostage] issue in the future will be done with no-one other than our Sheikh Osama bin Laden... and according to his terms," he added.

Ms Alliot-Marie said in a statement that France was "doing all in its power for the hostages, wherever they are, to be freed safe and sound".

"France cannot accept that its policy be dictated by anyone outside."

Failed rescue

Analysts say calling for troop withdrawals was a traditional demand, but the reference to Bin Laden was new.

The seven hostages, who include one Togolese and one Madagascan, were seized on 16 September in raids targeting two French firms involved at the uranium mine near Arlit, northern Niger.

In July, AQIM announced it had killed a 78-year-old retired French engineer being held hostage in Mali, after a raid by French and Mauritanian forces failed to free him.

The following month, the Spanish government is believed to have paid millions of euros to free two of its nationals seized by AQIM in Mauritania.

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