, MADRID, Feb 4 – Mali\’s President Amadou Toumani Toure says he is optimistic about the fate of six Europeans held in his country by the north African branch of Al-Qaeda, according to an interview published Thursday.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is holding three Spaniards, two Italians and a Frenchman — whom the group have threatened to kill — in Mali\’s northern desert region.
Toure ruled out a military raid to free the hostages and said efforts were under way to secure their release either by paying a ransom or releasing AQIM prisoners.
"I have absolutely not lost hope," Toure told Spain\’s El Pais newspaper, "Things are going well. The families must not lose hope.
"We are working effectively and with discretion. All countries, including Spain, have said we definitely must not try a military solution."
Toure said negotiations to resolve the situation involved a large number of go-betweens.
"We don\’t have direct contacts with the hostage takers. We are dealing with a lot of intermediaries. It is possible money is passing through other countries and other people," Toure said.
No country, even a superpower, could control Mali\’s vast, inhospitable desert north, Toure said.
AQIM kidnapped three Spanish volunteers who were travelling in Mauritania in a humanitarian aid convoy on November 29, and claimed responsibility for the abduction of two Italians in Mauritania on December 18.
The group also took Frenchman Pierre Camatte from his hotel in Menaka, more than 1,500 kilometres (1,000 miles) from Bamako, in November.
AQIM threatened to kill Camatte if four of its members detained in Mali were not released by January 30, but put back the deadline late on Saturday to an unspecified date.
The group killed British hostage Edwin Dyer in Mali in June last year, blaming Britain for failing to release a radical Muslim cleric in exchange.