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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
German plea over Sahara tourists
Sahara desert outside the town of Illizi
Some of the tourists have been missing since February

Germany's foreign minister has held talks with the Algerian president on efforts to find 32 European tourists, believed to have been kidnapped during excursions in the Sahara desert.

Joschka Fischer said he hoped the tourists would return home quickly "safe and sound" and stressed that his government did not want a "solution by force" to free them.

But he declined to give details about his talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

German delegation sources revealed on Monday that a 16th German was among the missing tourists, along with 10 Austrians, four Swiss, one Dutch citizen and a Swede - a total of 32. Some of them have been missing since February.

Mr Fischer's trip underscored the growing European pressure for the Algerian authorities to resolve the mystery surrounding the tourists' fate.

They were in six or seven separate groups, and all were travelling without guides. Some were crossing the Sahara by motorbike.

Al-Qaeda link

The German news magazine Focus on Monday quoted "security sources" as saying the alleged abductors had demanded direct negotiations with German officials, but that the demand had been rejected by the government in Algiers.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Fischer adds to European pressure on Algeria

The magazine said Berlin was troubled by Algeria's decision not to use German troops trained to deal with hostage crises.

Mr Fischer was reportedly accompanied by officers of Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency, the BND.

One Swiss media report suggests that the tourists are alive and a ransom is being demanded for their return by a radical group called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (SGPC).

The group is allegedly linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Algeria has deployed several thousand troops to look for them in the vast Sahara desert.

'German offer' for Sahara search
04 May 03  |  Africa
Missing tourists' desert message
14 Apr 03  |  Europe
Tourists vanish in Sahara
30 Mar 03  |  Africa
Timeline: Algeria
03 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
03 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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