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Algeria: Missing Tourists' Fate Remains Unknown - 2003-05-06

The fate of a group of missing European tourists in Algeria remains unknown Tuesday after government officials denied a state-run radio report that the tourists had been taken hostage by unknown kidnappers.

Algeria's interior minister, Yazid Zerhouni, is denying that talks are under way to win the release of 31 European tourists who disappeared in Algeria's southern Sahara desert in mid-February.

Sunday, the country's state-run radio station reported that the tourists had been kidnapped by unknown assailants and that negotiations were under way to secure their release. But on Tuesday the interior minister told Algerian radio that no negotiations are taking place and no contacts have been made with any group that may have taken the hostages.

Thousands of Algerian troops and local guides have been deployed in an effort to locate the tourists, including 15 Germans, 10 Austrians, four Swiss nationals, one Dutchman and a Swede.

They were last seen heading into the Sahara desert in four-wheel drive vehicles and on motorcycles.

Mr. Zerhouni said anything is possible regarding the fate of the tourists.

Monday, Algerian radio reported that the country's tourism minister was close to winning the release of the tourists. Later, Algerian officials denied the report.