CAIRO Ñ Algeria has launched negotiations for the release 31
European tourists believed being held by an Islamic insurgency group linked
to Al Qaida.
Algerian officials said the negotiations began more three weeks ago in
cooperation with European Union states, Middle East Newsline reported. Teams from several EU states are in
Algiers to monitor the talks with the captors of the European tourists,
missing in the Sahara desert since February.
Algerian officials said they cannot confirm reports that the tourists
are being held by an Islamic insurgency group linked to Al Qaida. The
officials said the tourists were being held in the Tamelrik mountain, about
1,500 kilometres southeast of Algiers.
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"Contacts are taking place at the moment regarding the release of the
tourists," Algerian Tourism Minister Lakhdar Dorbani said.
The Algerian daily Al Watan said negotiations had begun in mid-April for
the release of the European nationals. The newspaper, quoting Algerian
security officials, said the captors were demanding an unspecified ransom.
"The tourists are indeed alive, and negotiations are taking place to win
their release," Mohammed Guerrout, chairman of parliament's Tourism
Committee, said in a radio interview.
Earlier, Algerian Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni said
security authorities have gathered evidence that the 31 tourists remain
alive. More than 5,000 Algerian troops as well as a German commando unit
have been searching for the tourists.
Zarhouni did not say what evidence Algeria had acquired to determine
that the Westerners were still alive. He said a vehicle that belonged to
German tourists was discovered on April 28 during a search of the southern
In an interview on Saturday with Algerian state radio, Zerhouni did not
dismiss the possibility that the tourists were captured by an Islamic
insurgency group. Earlier, Western diplomatic sources said the assessment by
Algiers and European Union authorities was that the Salafist Brigade for
Combat and Call was holding the Westerners.
Zerhouni said the Westerners began a desert tour in the Sahara in
February without local security or guides. The minister said Algerian
authorities have launched a search for the missing.
On Friday, six Salafist combatants were killed in an Algerian military
operation near Tebessa in eastern Algeria. The insurgents were killed in a
search-and-destroy operation that began in January.