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France backs Mali terror fight

BAMAKO, Feb 25 – Mali can count on France for support in the fight against terrorism, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Mali, where he also met a French hostage recently released by Al-Qaeda militants.

Sarkozy, who made his brief stopover on route to Rwanda, thanked Mali\’s President Amadou Toumani Toure for his role in winning the release of French national Pierre Camatte.

Sarkozy said he had told Camatte, whom he met earlier,that if it had not been for Toure the French hostage "would not be here today."

The president said that he had not forgotten the other hostages still being held by the same group, three Spanish and two Italian nationals.

But he added: "We are going to move to a second phase, which is a phase of determined struggle against these killers and terrorists, and Mali can count on our support."

Listening to the French president\’s speech in the Malian presidential palace was Camatte, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet.

The fighters who had held him hostage for nearly three months were fanatics persuaded that they were holders of the supreme truth, Camatte told reporters.

"They have a truth which is the supreme truth," he said, trying to explain their mentality.

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"They have the Koran and they read it all the time…" he added.

"They say that the Muslims of France aren\’t real Muslims, that they are the ones who hold the truth and that their aim is to Islamise the whole world. They are fanatics."

And most of their recruits, between 70 and 80 percent of them, were young people, he added.

Of the conditions he experienced during his captivity, he said: "You are isolated, you must not move, there is the heat of the Sahara, terrible conditions of hygiene, absolutely disgusting food and water.

"The most difficult thing is the solitude."

Camatte was released by Al-Qaeda on Tuesday in exchange for four Islamist prisoners who had been held in Mali but were released a day earlier.

That decision infuriated Algeria and Mauritania, who had wanted them extradited for trial, and both countries have recalled their ambassadors from Mali in protest.

France has denied that it had paid a ransom for Camatte.

The 61-year-old aid worker was kidnapped on November 26 from a hotel by Malians who passed him on to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African franchise of Osama Bin Laden\’s militant movement.

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The group had warned they would kill Camatte, a threat that was taken seriously because the same group had killed British tourist Edwin Dyer in June last year after London refused to agree to their demands.

Sarkozy stayed two hours in Mali before flying on to his next scheduled destination, the Rwandan capital Kigali, as part of a tour of French-speaking Africa.

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