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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Food 'gesture' for Sahara hostages
Sahara desert outside the town of Illizi
The hostage drama began around six months ago

Algerian kidnappers have reportedly allowed a mediator to take food and medicine to 14 European hostages held in the Sahara desert of northern Mali for several months.

The Malian Government has been negotiating with the kidnappers through the mediator - local Tuareg leader Iyag Ag Ghali.

The French news agency AFP quoted official sources close to negotiations on Wednesday as saying that the captors wanted "to show their good faith", and that "the ball is now in the Germans' court".

Mali has also been working closely with Germany to free the hostages, most of whom are German, Malian government sources said.

The kidnappers, who are thought to be a faction of the Algerian militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, are demanding a 5m euro ($5.5m) ransom to free the hostages.

The group is suspected of having links to the al-Qaeda terror network.

Hostage crisis

The Sahara has been the scene of a hostage crisis since early this year.

Those still being held - nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch - were among a total of 32 seized while travelling without guides in southern Algeria between February and March.

Seventeen were freed when Algerian soldiers reportedly raided the kidnappers' camp in May.

One of the hostages, a German woman, is said to have died from heatstroke while in captivity.




SEE ALSO:
Hostage negotiator reports back
06 Aug 03  |  Africa
Mali joins hostages search
01 Aug 03  |  Africa
Tourist hostage 'dies in Sahara'
29 Jul 03  |  Europe
Missing tourists sought in Mali
23 Jul 03  |  Africa
Saharan hostage 'rescue planned'
20 May 03  |  Africa
Missing Sahara tourists 'alive'
17 Jun 03  |  Africa



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