French government 'encouraged' by hostage photos

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French government 'encouraged' by hostage photos

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The first pictures of the five French citizens and two Africans who were taken hostage in Niger have been broadcast.

The images show the group sitting in the sand with their captors behind them. The tape, handed to Al Jazeera, also contains an audio recording.

It can not be verified independently, but the tape seems to reveal the hostages being questioned by their captors. They all say they were kidnapped from their base and are now being held by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

The hostages were seized near Arlit in Niger two weeks ago. It is thought that they are now being held in a mountainous area of northwestern Mali.

The group – five French, one from Togo and one from Madagascar – were working for French mining and construction firms.

Areva’s boss, Anne Lauvergeon has arrived in Niger for a meeting with the country’s president.

In the tape the kidnapping is described as being in “retaliation” – believed to refer to a raid on a militant base in the summer.

The French Foreign Ministry said the tape was encouraging as the pictures showed the hostages alive. France has yet to receive any demands from the hostage takers and says it is interested in talking to them.