DUBAI (Reuters) - A video of French hostage Serge Lazarevic, appealing to France’s President Francois Hollande to negotiate his release after two years in captivity in the Sahara, was aired by Dubai-based Akhbar Al Aan TV on Tuesday.
In the video, Lazarevic wore a black turban and had a long grey beard. He said he had been kidnapped by al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, and appeared in front of two gunmen, whose faces were concealed by turbans.
“I take this opportunity today May 13, 2014, to call on Francois Hollande, the president of France, to do everything to negotiate my release,” he said, speaking in French.
Akhbar Al Aan TV, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, said the hostage was ill. Lazarevic said he was in a critical condition that was becoming more and more untenable.
“I am suffering from several health problems and from difficult environmental conditions,” Lazarevic said in the one-minute video address which Reuters could not independently verify.
Lazarevic implored Hollande to do everything to secure his release, as the government did in the case of other kidnapped French nationals who were released after negotiations.
In October, following secret talks led by negotiators in Niger, al Qaeda-linked gunmen freed four Frenchmen they had held hostage since they were seized in Niger in 2010.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Public Senat television that the government was working discreetly to find Lazarevic who is the last French citizen being held.
The French Foreign Ministry said earlier that the video was being verified and had no further comment.
David Hornus, a founder of Lyon-based consultancy Risksgroup, said the video was a proof of life and a clear signal to France to start a negotiation.
“It’s now up to France to decide how it wants to handle that,” Hornus said.
Lazarevic’s daughter Dianne told French radio RTL that she was surprised but happy to see her father in the video because AQIM rarely gave a proof of life.
“This video is good because it means Al Qaeda is reaching out to France and they want to negotiate,” she said, adding that she was confident the French government would take the right action to obtain the liberation of her father.
Lazarevic, who is the last of a series of French hostages held by militants in the Sahel region, also appealed to his daughter, mother, sister and friends in the video, asking them to help him recover his freedom.
The presence of hostages in the region complicated French-led efforts to drive al Qaeda-linked militants from northern Mali, which was over-run by Islamists in 2012.
France sent troops to Mali, its former colony, in January last year to end the Islamists’ 10-month control of the north of the country.
Philippe Verdon, another Frenchman kidnapped alongside Lazarevic, was killed by his captors in northern Mali last July in response to France’s military intervention.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by David Lewis and Bate Felix; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky/Ruth Pitchford