French hostage in Mali appeals for help from Paris

DAKAR Mon Nov 26, 2012 10:56am EST

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DAKAR (Reuters) - A French citizen taken hostage by Islamist rebels last week in southwest Mali said he blamed France's foreign policy for his abduction and urged Paris to respond to his captors' demands, in a video shown on Monday.

European leaders are growing increasingly anxious that Mali could turn into a platform for militant attacks, including in Europe.

France is the most vocal supporter of military action by an African force against Islamist militants who have taken control of the north of the West African country.

Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, 61, was kidnapped on November 20 after crossing into Mali by car from Mauritania, making him the seventh French national in the hands of Islamist groups in the Sahara desert.

The video, published by Mauritanian news website Alakhbar, showed a bespectacled, unshaven man with white hair flanked by two men carrying rifles and wearing beige uniforms.

"My name is Rodriguez Leal, Gilberto. I was kidnapped in Diema, between Nioro and Bamako, by MUJWA," he said, referring to one of the Islamist groups controlling northern Mali. "I ask that the French government responds quickly to their demands."

"I am not to blame for this kidnapping, it is the government's foreign actions that are to blame," he said, adding that he was being treated well by his captors. Alakhbar said it had received the footage from MUJWA.

It was not clear what MUJWA's demands were, but Islamist groups in the Sahara have routinely demanded ransoms of millions of dollars to release hostages, and MUJWA has said France has paid ransoms in the past.

African nations are drawing up plans to intervene in Mali where almost two-thirds of the country fell into Islamist hands after a coup toppled the government earlier this year.

Mali's prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, arrived in Paris on Monday to hold talks with Foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday about the possible military intervention.

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Pravin Char)

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