French Family Released After Two Months in CaptivityApril 20, 2013 in Cameroon
Cameroon’s Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary has confirmed that seven members of a French family who were kidnapped by gunmen in northern Cameroon back in February of this year have been freed and are in good condition. France has also confirmed there release however President Francois Hollande denied that a ransom payment was made to free the family who is currently in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. Despite this release, seven other French hostages are being held throughout Africa.
A statement released by Cameroon’s Presidency indicates that the family had been handed over to Cameroonian authorities late on Thursday however the circumstances of that hand over remain to be unclear. Since then, they have arrived at the French embassy in the capital, under heavy security escort Both the French and Nigerian governments were thanked in the statement however no further information on their release was provided.
Meanwhile the French president’s office has confirmed that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already left the country, heading for Cameroon where he will greet the family. Mr. Fabius has indicated that the French hostages were freed overnight “in an area between Nigeria and Cameroon,” and that they would be flown back to France on Saturday. President Hollande also indicated that secret talks had been taking place over the past few weeks in order to help secure their release, noting that “France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms.”
The family, who live in Yaounde, had been returning from a holiday in Waza National Park in the northern region of Cameroon when they were kidnapped by gunmen on motorbikes on 19 February 2013. Mr. Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, along with his wife Albane, and four children, aged between five and twelve, had been joined on their vacation by his brother Cyril. A video that was released about one week after their capture, depicted the militants demanding the release of prisoners being held in Cameroon and in Nigeria. A video released later also criticized President Hollande for deploying troops to Mali in January 2013. Since their release, Mr. Moulin Fournier has indicated that ‘we are all very tired but normal life will now resume.” He further noted that “the conditions in which we were held were very difficult, it was extremely hot. But we did not have any serious problems. We are alive and we are infinitely happy to be free. It has been very long and difficult, it was hard psychologically and we had some very low moments. But we stuck together and that was crucial. As a family, we kept each other’s spirits up.”
With the release of this French family on Friday, at least seven French citizens are still being held hostage in Africa. The abductions have all been claimed by Islamist groups, in which at least six have been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). An eighth hostage was reported to have been executed in March 2013 in Mali by AQIM however his death has yet to be confirmed.
On 16 September 2010, kidnappers abducted five French nationals along with a Togolese and a Madagascan national who were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom in the uranium mining region of the country. AQIM claimed responsibility of the kidnappings on 21 September. A female French hostage, Francoise Larribe, was freed along with the Togolese and Madagascan nationals in February 2011. The four other French hostages, Theirry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand, and Marc Feret, are still being held, with French authorities stating that they are still alive.
On the night of 24 November 2011, Frenchmen Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori in northeastern Mali. According to their families, they were in Mali on a business trip. On 9 December, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and released photographs of the two men. On 10 August 2012, a video distributed by Mauritanian website Sahara Medias depicted Mr. Verdon speaking of the “difficult living conditions” and health problems. On 19 March 2013, AQIM announces that it has killed Mr. Verdon, citing that he was a spy for France. Although officials in Paris have yet to confirm the report, on 28 March, French President Hollande stated that the signs are that Mr. Verdon is dead.
On 20 November 2012, Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, a sixty-one-year-old Portuguese-born French citizen was abducted by at least six armed men in Diema, in western Mali, as he was travelling by car from Mauritania. On the 22 November, al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. On 26 January 2013, MUJAO indicated that they were ready to negotiate Mr. Leal’s.
On 19 December 2012, French engineer Francis Colomp is kidnapped by around thirty armed men who attacked the residence of the company where he was working in the state of Katsina which is located in the northern regions of Nigeria, near the border with Niger. During the attack, the hostage-takers killed two bodyguards and a neighbour. The act has since been claimed by Nigerian Ansaru, which has links to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. They have since indicated that the kidnapping was in reaction to France’s preparations for a military intervention in Mali.