Hopes rise for seized UN staff

February 9, 2009 12:00 am

, BAMAKO, Jan 9 – An alleged proof-of-life video raised hopes over the fate of two Canadian diplomats, one of them a UN envoy, who were kidnapped almost eight weeks ago in Niger.

Malian sources close to the investigation said that they had seen an undated video showing the diplomats were still alive which had also been received by the Canadian government.

Ottowa refused to confirm or deny the report.

"We are aware of the report," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marie-Christine Lilkoff said in reference to the video. "We do not have further comments," she said.

Canada similarly did not comment on a press report last month citing a UN Security Council source claiming the diplomats were still alive.

A Malian source claiming to have seen the video said it featured the UN envoy to Niger, Robert Fowler, and the second missing diplomat, Louis Guay, speaking with armed men behind them.

The pair went missing outside Niger’s capital Niamey in mid-December. Their driver, who also went missing, was not present in the video, according to the Malian sources.

"It is Robert Fowler who appears first before the camera. Behind him there are armed men. Mr. Fowler asks for a response to the demands of his kidnappers but doesn’t provide any more details," one Malian source told AFP.

Guay also appears in the video, which last several minutes, "and looks dejected," the source said.

A second Malian source also claimed to have seen the video and both said armed men wearing turbans stood behind the diplomats as they spoke.

The alleged kidnappers made no demands in the video, but could have done so via other channels, the sources said.

Investigators speculate subcontractors could have kidnapped the diplomats and then handed them over to Islamists, Malian sources say.

The two sources also noted that one potential abductor – Niger Tuaregs, who are fighting Niamey’s army in the northern part of that country -generally don’t appear in videos when they claim responsibility for actions.

In Niamey, government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar said the Niger authorities had no information about such a video.

"We have received nothing in terms of a video on the two Canadian diplomats. We are awaiting to see the follow-up. But right now we are sure they are not on Niger soil," he said.

Niger’s interior minister Abouba Albade was in Mali on Saturday for talks on "security problems" between the two west African countries, a government official said in Bamako. It was unclear whether the hostages were discussed.

Officials, including Niger’s president Mamadou Tandja, have suggested the diplomats were still alive and in the hands of terrorists.

Media reports have speculated that the alleged kidnappers could be linked to Islamists groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Maghreb branch of Al-Qaeda claimed several suicide bombings in Algeria last year.

It intends to unify armed Islamist groups in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as well as emerging groups in countries bordering the Sahara including Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.


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