Search for Sahara hostages shifts to Mali
Switzerland is sending an expert to Mali in a bid to trace 15 hostages, including four Swiss, who went missing in the Algerian desert earlier this year.
The foreign ministry said the police officer would help to coordinate international efforts to try to secure their release.
Spokesman Blaise Godet said the hostages – four Swiss, ten Germans and a Dutch citizen – were believed to have been taken to neighbouring Mali by their kidnappers. He added that there was no confirmation of their whereabouts.
The Swiss hostages were first reported missing in southern Algeria last February.
Algerian officials say the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) is behind the kidnappings. The Algerian government believes the GSPC has links to the al-Qaeda terror network.
Visit to Mali
Swiss officials held talks with the German deputy foreign minister, Jürgen Chrobog in Berlin on Wednesday, after his return from Mali, where he met President Amadou Toumani Touré.
Peter Sutter, director of Switzerland’s consular protection unit at the foreign ministry, said Bern was pleased to be working closely with Germany which had more personnel and resources available to deal with the situation.
He added that the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, had been briefed about Chrobog’s visit to Mali beforehand by her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer.
A total of 32 European tourists disappeared in February and March in a remote region of southern Algeria.
Seventeen were freed unharmed on May 13, after Algerian security forces stormed a hideout of suspected Islamic militants.
swissinfo with agencies
February 22/23: Last contact with 11 tourists in southern Algeria – six German, four Swiss and one Dutch.
March 17: A second and third group of tourists are reported missing.
March 30: A fourth group consisting of five Germans and one Swede is reported missing.
April 2: Four more German tourists disappear.
April 11: Two more Austrians go missing in the Sahara.
April 28: Clothing and other items belonging to the tourists are found.
May 4: Algeria confirms that tourists are alive.
May 6: Authorities in Algeria deny negotiating the hostages’ release with the kidnappers.
May 7: Some 5,000 Algerian troops comb the Sahara in search of those missing.
May 10: Swiss foreign ministry official meets Algerian counterparts to press for more information.
May 13: 17 hostages – 10 Austrians, six Germans and one Swede – are released.
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