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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
'Help needed' to free Algeria hostages
A poster showing the missing tourists
Thirty-two tourists disappeared
The Algerian president has said a lack of resources is impeding efforts to rescue a group of Europeans being held hostage in the Sahara desert.

Appealing for international help, Abdelaziz Bouteflika said his forces knew where the tourists were but lacked the "sophisticated equipment" needed to move in quickly and free them.

He also signalled he would leave a "way out" for the hostage-takers if it meant saving lives.

Meanwhile, four motorcycles and a jeep thought to belong to the abducted group have been found in southern Algeria, according to El Watan newspaper.

Four Swiss, one Dutchman and 10 Germans were among 32 tourists who went missing in mid-February while on an adventure tour in a remote part of the Sahara desert.

Last month, 17 of the holidaymakers were freed unharmed following a gun battle by Algerian special forces and the armed rebels.

al-Qaeda link

It is thought the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) - a group the US has linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network - is behind the kidnaps.

Mr Bouteflika told a press conference, after his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, that they knew where the hostages and their kidnappers were.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
President Bouteflika says he is prepared to talk to the hostage-takers

But he added: "If we had more material resources, things would move more quickly. We need more sophisticated equipment".

He said he was open to holding talks with the hostage-takers to try and secure the safe release of the tourists without resorting to military force.

"To save human lives, I am ready to leave a way out for the terrorists... that is the maximum that I am prepared to do," he said, without giving further details.

According to Algeria's El Watan newspaper, several vehicles were discovered by Tuareg nomads in the Illizi region of southern Algeria.

They had been carefully hidden under rocks and were thought to belong to the abducted tourists.




SEE ALSO:
Saharan hostage 'rescue planned'
20 May 03  |  Africa
Sahara hostage tells of ordeal
15 May 03  |  Africa
Sahara hostages fly home
14 May 03  |  Africa
German plea over Sahara tourists
12 May 03  |  Africa
Tourists vanish in Sahara
30 Mar 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Algeria
06 May 03  |  Country profiles


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