Friday, April 19, 2013

French family kidnapped in Cameroon by Boko Haram Islamist militants freed 'Time'

Former hostages Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, left, his wife, Albane, and his brother, Cyril, outside the French embassy in Yaounde. Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

A French family with four children who were kidnapped in Cameroon and held in Nigeria for two months by suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants have been released, but Fran├žois Hollande denied that a ransom had been paid.

Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, an expat employee of the French gas group GDF Suez, based in the Cameroon capital, his four children, aged between four and 12, as well as his wife and brother, were on holiday near the Waza national park in the far north of Cameroon in February when they were seized by men on motorbikes armed with Kalashnikovs.

Gunmen claiming to be from the Nigerian radical Islamist militant group Boko Haram released videos of the family, threatening to kill them if authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon did not release Muslim militants held there.

It was the first case of foreigners being taken in the north of the country, a former French colony. The kidnapping came six weeks after France launched a military intervention in Mali to fight Islamist groups who had taken over a swath of the north after a coup.

Hollande told a news conference on Friday that secret talks had been taking place over several weeks to secure the hostages' release. He denied any ransom had been paid. "France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms," he said.
Romain Striffing, left, brother of Albane Moulin-Fournier, and Nicolas Moulin-Fournier, brother of Tanguy and Cyril Moulin-Fournier, speak to reporters in Paris

In February, the former US ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston, had claimed that France in recent years had paid millions of dollars in ransoms in the Sahel that had ultimately funded the al-Qaida-linked militants its troops were fighting in Mali. French officials denied ransom payments.

Hollande said: "I spoke to the father this morning … He told me how happy and relieved he was. This is an immense relief. This will redouble our determination to free the hostages who remain."

Eight French hostages are still held by al-Qaida-linked groups in the Sahel region.

Last month, a video surfaced showing a man who appeared to be Moulin-Fournier. The man said his family was being held by Boko Haram, which wanted its members freed, especially women and children held in Nigerian and Cameroonian custody.

The group has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north. It has been held responsible for more than 790 deaths last year and dozens more since January.

In the video, the man said his family was not doing well in captivity. "We lose strength every day and are starting to get sick," he said in the recording.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has flown to Cameroon and said the family would be repatriated as soon as possible.