Hollande tries to reassure on France's other Africa hostages

PARIS Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:39am EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande said on Sunday France was doing all it could to free as many as eight people taken hostage by Islamist militants in recent years in Africa's Sahel region.

In a statement released after he met relatives of hostages, some whom were captured two years ago in Niger, Hollande said: "France is working on it with determination and in a responsible fashion. No lead will be ignored or neglected."

He was speaking hours after Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant in a deadly end to one of the biggest hostage crises in decades, thrusting the world spotlight on Islamist militants many of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

AQIM, an al Qaeda wing operating across West and North Africa's vast Sahara desert, took four French citizens hostage two years ago from a mining town in Niger.

Four others have also been taken hostage in Mali or along the border areas of the country, where Hollande has sent fighter jets and troops to halt an advance southward by Islamists who control much of the north of the vast former French colony.

Hollande's statement provided no details on rescue efforts.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said of the hostages in a radio interview: "We have and will do everything we can to ensure they are freed ... the hostage takers need to know they are taking a big risk."

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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