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European Hostages in Mali Could Soon be Freed - 2003-08-18


The German government says negotiations for the release of 14 European tourists held by Algerian militants have reached a "final phase."

A German military aircraft landed in Mali at the town of Gao to fly the hostages - nine Germans, four Swiss, and one Dutchman - home to Europe if they are released as expected.

The German Foreign Ministry is giving no details about negotiations for release of the 14 hostages, who were kidnapped in February and were most recently believed held in the Sahara Desert near the Mali-Algeria border.

Ministry officials have not commented on a report by German television that the kidnappers had released their hostages to the custody of middlemen following payment of a ransom.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Juergen Chrobog arrived in Mali Sunday, saying he was prepared to bring the captives home.

The hostages are among 32 Europeans kidnapped by Algerian militants in February. Seventeen of the captives were freed in May after a rescue operation by the Algerian army. One more is believed to have died of heatstroke.

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