A top German foreign ministry official has arrived in Mali amid reports that 14 European tourists could soon be released by Algerian militants after six months in captivity.

Germany's foreign ministry has refused to confirm a report that 14 tourists, many of them Germany, have already been freed. There is also no confirmation of a German television report that the kidnappers received an unspecified amount of ransom money.

But a spokesman said deputy Foreign Minister Juergen Chrobog arrived in Bamako, Mali's capital, on Sunday. Mr, Chrobog flew aboard a German government hospital plane that officials say will be used to repatriate the European hostages.

The latest development came after several days of reports that the crisis could be close to a breakthrough

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 died of heatstroke.

The remaining hostages, nine Germans, four Swiss, and one Dutch national, are believed to be somewhere in northern Mali.

The negotiator told reporters Friday that a reported $5 million ransom demanded for each hostage is no longer a factor in their release. Germany had refused to pay the ransom, fearing copycat crimes.