DAKAR (Reuters) - A French man kidnapped 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.
Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, 61, was taken hostage on November 20 after crossing from Mauritania into Mali, where Islamist militants took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to seize the northern two thirds of the country.
European leaders are growing increasingly anxious Mali could turn into a platform for militant attacks, and France is the most vocal Western backer of a plan for African troops to retake the country’s north.
Six other French nationals are also in the hands of Islamist groups in the surrounding 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.
A French foreign ministry spokesman confirmed it was Gilberto in the video.
“We are aware of the pictures of our compatriot. We are currently examining the video to verify its authenticity and we remain completely mobilised to help him,” the spokesman said.
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 African military intervention.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Heavens