Malian gov't confirms release of Italian hostages

14:52, April 18, 2010      

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The government of Mali on Friday confirmed the release of two Italian hostages who had been held for months by the North African wing of Al Qaeda (AQMI) in the northern parts of the West African country.

"The government of Mali is pleased to announce today the release of two Italian hostages Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kabore who had been held since Dec. 12, 2009 by an armed Islamist group of the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb," the government said in a statement broadcast on national television.

"The ex-hostages are doing well," the official statement said, without giving any details on the hostages.

Cicala, an Italian at the age of 65, and his wife Kabore, 39, of Burkina Faso origin, were kidnapped in the southeast of Mauritania close to the Malian border while they were driving in a mini-bus to Burkina Faso.

AQMI said it kidnapped the two Italians because of their country's involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their abductors handed them over to an AQMI group in northern Mali. AQMI had reportedly demanded the release of their fighters jailed in Mauritania in exchange for the two Italians, only to be rejected by the Mauritanian authorities.

Early last month, AQMI also let go Spanish hostage Alicia Gamez amid reports that both Spain and Italy had sought help from Mali for the release of the hostages.

Three Spanish humanitarian workers and the Italian couple were taken hostage in November and December in Mauritania, before being sent to northern Mali for detention. With the release of Gamez and the Italian couple, only two Spanish hostages are left in the hands of AQMI.

Mali has become a spotlight in reports of the hostage release, but its efforts are being questioned by its anti-terrorism allies in the region.

On Feb. 22, Mauritania recalled its ambassador from Mali to protest against the release of four Islamic extremists among them a Mauritanian, a condition which was imposed by AQMI in a swap for a French hostage Pierre Camatte. Algeria followed the suit in recalling its envoy from Bamako, vowing never to give in to AQMI.

The three countries are among signatories to regional agreements to fight AQMI.

Algeria announced a plan days ago to host a meeting of top military officials from seven African countries in the Sahel- Sahara region, which is situated in the southern edge of the Sahara desert and is facing increasing infiltration by AQMI in recent years.

Algiers said participants would discuss how to activate the agreements they reached last month to confront a growing threat by AQMI.

Chiefs of staff of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad were invited to the meeting to "assess the security situation in the region."

Source: Xinhua


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