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France has every reason to believe Niger hostages alive, says Defence Minister

French Defence Minister Hervé Morin.
French Defence Minister Hervé Morin. Reuters

France has "every reason" to believe that five French nationals kidnapped in Niger last week are alive, Defence Minister Hervé Morin said on Saturday. He acknowledged, however, that the French government had received "no proof of life, as such" since the hostages were taken on Thursday.

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"The claim of responsibility by Al-Qaeda indicating that in a few days we are going to have some precise demands, that leads us to think that our compatriots are alive," Morin told French radio.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), the group's north African offshoot, has stated it carried out the kidnappings as "retaliation" for French military raids on their fighters.

Morin said that the government was waiting to hear from Aqim, but was insistent that no ransom would be paid for the hostages' release.

"We do not pay ransoms to kidnappers... What we do is to ensure that our compatriots are brought back through discussions," he said.

France has deployed an intelligence unit and spotter planes to Niger in a bid to track the kidnappers, but security officials say there are no plans to use force to retrieve the hostages.

Aqim has warned France against attempting an armed rescue mission.

Meanwhile France has no date in mind for the release of two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan, Morin confirmed.

On Friday, the head of the French army, Edouard Guillaud, indicated that there was "reasonable hope" that the two men would be freed before the end of the year, but Morin stressed that negotiations remain "particularly complex and unpredictable".

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