UPDATE 4-Kidnapped French family of seven released in Cameroon

Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:03am EDT

* French family in Cameroon after release

* Hollande says no ransom paid for hostages

* French ForMin Fabius expected in Cameroon

By Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE, April 19 (Reuters) - A French family of seven, including four children, have been released in Cameroon following secret talks, France said on Friday, ending two months of captivity in the hands of Nigerian Islamist militants.

Armed men on motorcycles snatched the family on Feb. 19 while they were on holiday near the Waza national park in north Cameroon, some 10 km (six miles) from the Nigerian border.

"I spoke to the father this morning ... He told me how happy and relieved he was," French President Francois Hollande said at a news conference in Paris on Friday. "This is an immense relief. This will redouble our determination to free the hostages who remain."

Eight French hostages are still being held by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant groups in the arid Sahel region of west Africa.

Hollande said there had been discrete contacts over the last few weeks to free the family under French terms and denied any money was paid for their release.

"France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms," he said.

The father of the kidnapped family, Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, worked in Cameroon for French utility firm GDF Suez. He was seized with his wife, four sons, and his brother, who was visiting them on holiday.

"It was very long. It was very difficult. It was physically and psychologically tough and there were some very low moments," Moulin-Fournier told France Inter radio. "We're very tired but life will resume and life is stronger than everything else."

Both adult males of the family had thick beards while the children looked drawn, and wore flip-flops, knee-length shorts and tee-shirts.

"We are very happy to be released. I want to thank (Cameroon) President Paul Biya for making all the effort to ensure our release," his tired-looking wife, Albane Moulin-Fournier, said on Cameroonian television, holding her smallest child.

Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, secretary-general of Cameroon's presidency, said all family members were well.

State television showed the family descending from a plane where they were greeted on the tarmac by the French ambassador who took them to the embassy in the capital Yaounde.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was due to meet them there, a French official said, and they would be repatriated to France as soon as possible.

"I think I'll bring them (back to France) early tomorrow," Fabius said before boarding a flight to Cameroon on Friday.

The release of the hostages is a rare piece of good news for Hollande's government, which is struggling to cut unemployment and has been hit by a tax fraud scandal which has forced its budget minister to resign.

Mostly Muslim northern Cameroon is considered an area within the operational sphere of Islamist militants including Boko Haram, Nigeria's biggest security threat.

Gunmen claiming to be from Boko Haram released videos of the family in March, threatening to kill them unless Nigeria and Cameroon released Muslim militants held in detention.

Cameroon denied it was holding any militants and it was unclear if any of the group's demands had been met.

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