June 16 , 2013
The families of four Frenchmen who were taken hostage in the North African republic of Niger in 2010, are planning rallies across France next week. Today, Thursday, June 13, marks the 1000th day of their loved ones being held captive by insurgents linked to al-Qaida in North Africa
Rallies across France for four Frenchmen held hostage for 1000 days in Niger
The families of four Frenchmen who were taken hostage in the North African republic of Niger in 2010, are planning rallies across France next week. Today, Thursday, June 13, marks the 1000th day of their loved ones being held captive by insurgents linked to al-Qaida in North Africa.
The four French hostages were variously employed by French companies Areva, Vinci and Sogea Satom when they were taken hostage on Sept. 16, 2010, in the town of Arlit, north Niger, by a group claiming to be part of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), reports 20 Minutes. Areva employee Daniel Larribe and his wife Françoise were among seven people originally kidnapped by AQIM along with five employees of Satom, a subsidiary of the Vinci construction group. Although Françoise Larribe and two of the Satom employees were released in February 2011, Daniel Larribe and three Satom workers, Pierre Legrand, Thierry Dol and Marc Ferret have remained in captivity.
Now, the families of the four remaining Niger hostages plan to hold rallies across France in the cities of Nantes, Nimes, Aix-en-Provence, Orleans and Valence, as well as the French capital, Paris, on June 22, as a reminder of the plight of the four whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. In a statement released Wednesday, representatives of the four families said, “A thousand days in the wilderness, away from everything and everyone. A thousand days: two and a half years, almost three. A thousand days is intolerable. They need to come back now.”
Understandably, all the families are concerned at what they see as the intolerable delay in any move to have the hostages released. During almost three years of uncertainty, the families have received only bits and pieces of information about their loved ones. When asked recently about the hostages, a spokesman for Quai d’Orsay — the French Foreign Office — had declined to comment “for security reasons and out of respect for the families,” 20 Minutes reported.
A video of the four French nationals held hostage was released by AQIM in September 2012 although it was impossible to verify when the video was filmed, (see accompanying Euronews video). The video showed the hostages in apparent good health. AQIM blamed the French government for delaying negotiations which might lead to the hostages’ release.
For the French government, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with hostages’ families in January 2013, telling them that “their loved ones were alive and healthy,” even though they were being held in “very difficult” conditions, reports World Nuclear News. Foreign Minister Fabius said at the time, “As frustrating as it may be, the treatment of cases of kidnapping in fact requires the utmost discretion, in the interests of efficiency and in the interest of the hostages.”
The minister confirmed to hostages’ relatives that those held captive were being properly fed and had access to medical treatment. He also said letters written to the hostages by their families had been delivered to them, adding, “Like all of us, I share the anxiety and impatience of the families in these difficult times.” Fabius concluded that the French president, government and businesses were “determined to secure the release of the hostages and their return to France as quickly as possible.”
But for the hostages’ families, another six months have slipped by since Fabius’ encouraging statement and there is concern at the apparent inaction on the part of the French government. In mid-April this year, French President Françoise Hollande had put down the lack of progress to lack of response on the part of the kidnappers saying, “We have wanted (contact) for weeks, if not months.”
Despite matters being compounded by the French intervention in Mali, there was some comfort for relatives of hostages this week. Philippe Hugon, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), in charge of Africa told 20 Minutes, “The various intermediate networks between the kidnappers and the negotiators are moving, they are recovering.”
Referring to the release of a French family, taken hostage in Cameroon in February and released, relatively quickly, in April, Mr. Hugon said, “The situation of the French family taken captive in Cameroon was less complex. In this [Arlit, Niger] case, the release of the hostages is more difficult because the war in Mali, where France is at the forefront, is not finished and because these hostages represent financial and strategic issues important to jihadist groups.”
Encouraging words perhaps, but as 20 Minutes reports, the families of the hostages are tiring of what they see as the “lack of explanations” from the French authorities. As René Robert, grandfather of hostage Pierre Legrand put it, “Since the French military intervention in Mali, [the hostage situation] has become a total unknown. There’s been no explanation as to why matters are taking so long. We expect deeds as well as words. We just want our guys back.”
Few in France will disagree with that sentiment.
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