France says one of two hostages held in Mali probably dead

PARIS Tue Apr 22, 2014 4:16pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - A French man kidnapped two years ago in Mali by an al Qaeda-linked group is probably dead, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday after the insurgents said they had killed him.

Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who would be 62 now, was captured in November 2012 while camping in the region. He had crossed from Mauritania into Mali where Islamist militants had taken advantage of chaos after a coup to seize the northern two thirds of the country.

A spokesman for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) told Agence France Presse he had been killed because France was "our enemy". He did not give any details of when or how he had been killed.

"The statement from MUJWA, responsible for his kidnapping, leads us unfortunately to believe today that Mr. Rodriguez-Leal is probably dead, even though no material proof can allow us to confirm it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.

Officials have said for several months that the hostage had probably died as there had been no proof of life for more than a year and no demands for his release.

President Francois Hollande's office said that Rodriguez-Leal had probably died several weeks ago due to the "conditions of his detention".

"France will do everything to get the truth ... and will not leave this act unpunished," it said in a statement.

One other Frenchman kidnapped around the same time is still missing.

Serge Lazarevic was seized in November 2011 in the north of Mali by al Qaeda's North African arm AQIM. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday Paris had indications he was still alive.

Thousands of French troops intervened in northern Mali last year to prevent Islamists who seized the desert region in 2012 from extending their reach further south.

The insurgents have threatened reprisals against French targets. AQIM said last March it had beheaded one hostage. His body was found several months later.

One of MUJWA's leaders, Abu Dar Dar, surrendered to French troops in Mali in March.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage and John Irish; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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