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Rebel Group Issues Statement Negotiating Release of Italian Hostages

Niger says two Italian tourists who were kidnapped nearly one week ago have been taken by their captors to a neighboring country.

Officials in Niger would not say which country the kidnappers have fled to. The Italians were captured Monday, deep in the desert near the border with Chad, after their tour group was ambushed by bandits. About 20 other tourists also were captured, but were later released.

Meanwhile Saturday, Italy's foreign ministry says it received a message from a Saharan rebel group that has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

The ministry said the so-called Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara has promised to release the two hostages if Italy publishes the rebels' condemnation of Niger's government. Italian officials distributed the declaration to news organizations. The rebel statement accuses Niger's government of not being democratic.

On Friday, one of the hostages called his wife to say he is in good condition and being well-treated.

Italian officials say they have warned tourists against visiting the area near Lake Chad because of the high risk of criminal activity.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.