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French family freed after being held hostage in Nigeria

April 19, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A family of French tourists, including four children, held hostage by an Islamist militia in northern Nigeria has been freed, according the French and Cameroonian officials.

Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his wife Albane, brother Cyril and four sons ages 5 to 12 were kidnapped in February after visiting a wildlife park in northern Cameroon and were whisked by motorcycles across the border into Nigeria.

The Islamist militia Boko Haram later claimed responsibility and demanded the release of prisoners in Nigeria and Cameroon. They said the kidnappings were in response to France's operation to drive out Islamist militias in Mali.

The former hostages were taken Friday to the French Embassy in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital, after their release.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius flew to Cameroon to meet with them. French officials said the family members were in good health.

French President Francois Hollande said their release was "a huge relief" and insisted that France had not paid a ransom to gain their freedom.

Hollande said France was determined to secure the release of eight other hostages being held in the region. Most are believed to be in northern Mali, where France is fighting militants linked to Al Qaeda in a military operation that is expected to wind down soon.

During the family's captivity, two videos were released listing demands. In the second video last month, Tanguy Moulin-Fournier said the family was being held in a remote desert area and that conditions were harsh, particularly for the children.

The family had lived in Cameroon since 2011, except Cyril, who was visiting when they were seized.

Boko Haram, which is fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, usually carries out bomb attacks and shootings, often targeting police, soldiers, politicians and Christians in northern Nigeria.

The release of the hostages came after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan offered Boko Haram an amnesty within the next 60 days in return for disarmament.

"Goodluck Jonathan has approved the constitution of a presidential committee to constructively engage key members of Boko Haram and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity," his office said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement said the committee would develop the terms of the amnesty and disarmament, to occur within two months. It would also set up mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies.

In 2009, Nigeria successfully offered a similar amnesty to rebels in the Niger Delta.


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