BAMAKO - A French woman seized with six other foreigners in Niger last month by an Al-Qaeda-linked group has cancer and urgently needs medical treatment, a Niger-based mediator told AFP on Sunday. "I have just returned from meeting the kidnappers in the desert where I met two members of the group who said the French woman hostage is sick and can't last much longer without medical treatment," the mediator said by satellite telephone.
The September 16 kidnapping of the seven foreigners - five French, a Togolese and a Madagascan - from the uranium mining town of Arlit in the deserts of northern Niger has been claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The mediator said he had met the kidnappers in northeastern Mali's Timetrine region, a hilly desert area where sources had earlier said the kidnappers had likely moved the hostages from Niger.
Aides to a Malian mediator said they have also been told that Francoise Larribe, 62, who was seized along with her engineer husband Daniel Larribe, is ill.
"The Frenchwoman is sick. We've been told she had been undergoing treatment shortly before her kidnapping, but that she needs follow-up care," one of the mediator's aides said. She underwent chemotherapy shortly before her kidnapping, the sources said. "The kidnappers said the hostages are alive and well-treated," said the Nigerian mediator. He added that the "kidnappers are open to any negotiations, and said they will soon make their demand known, but that the fate of the hostages is in the hands of 'all the factions' of AQIM."
AQIM posted on September 30 a photograph and audio recordings of the seven, who were mostly working for the French nuclear group Areva and its subcontractors.
Only one of the kidnappers seated with the hostages had his face visable. Pierre Camatte, who was held by AQIM for three months in the Malian desert, identified the man as Algerian jihadist leader Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, one of the most radical leaders of the group.
Abu Zeid was responsible for the kidnapping of 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, who AQIM said on July 25 they had executed, three days after a failed rescue attempt by French troops in northern Mali in which seven militants were killed.
Abu Zeid's group was also responsible for the execution in April of British hostage Edwin Dyer.
The French government has indicated it is willing to talk to the kidnappers, but has received no contact from the group.