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France Believes Hostages Captured in Niger Are Still Alive

France's defense minister says there is "every reason" to believe the five French nationals held captive by al-Qaida-linked militants in Niger are alive.

Herve Morin says the fact that al-Qaida has indicated it will soon make demands has led French authorities to think the hostages are alive. He says French officials have been waiting for the kidnappers to make their demands.

Morin also acknowledged his government has no proof the hostages are alive.

Gunmen kidnapped the five French nationals, as well as two Africans, September 16 in the town of Arlit in northern Niger. Officials say the kidnappers may have taken the hostages to neighboring Mali.

North Africa's Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

On Friday, France said it has no immediate plans to use military action to rescue the five French hostages.

The head of armed forces in France, Edouard Guillaud, said the hostages' lives do not appear to be in immediate danger, but he said military intervention is possible if the situation worsens.

France has sent a military intelligence unit to the region, but has said it wants to open communication with the militants in hopes of freeing the five French nationals and two Africans.

The hostages include two employees of the French nuclear energy firm Areva and five with a subsidiary of the French construction company Vinci.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has carried out previous kidnappings in the region, including that of a 78-year-old Frenchman who was abducted in Niger in April and later killed.

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