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The North African branch of al-Qaida said Wednesday that France has broken off negotiations over the French hostages it has held over the past two years, endangering their lives.
Al-Qaida kidnapped four French employees of the Areva nuclear energy corporation from the northern Niger town of Arlit in September 2010.
"We call on the families of the hostages to make noise about this issue and say that silence is the biggest danger to your children," said the statement, which appeared on jihadi websites. "We cannot guarantee the health of the hostages if your government continues to neglect (this matter)."
The statement added that al-Qaida was always ready to negotiate, while criticizing French President Francois Hollande for exacerbating the situation by calling for an invasion of Mali, where the northern half has been conquered by Islamist extremists and the hostages are believed to be held.
The statement came as French President Francois Hollande, attending a meeting on the Sahel at the United Nations, called on the Security Council to meet quickly and adopt a resolution that would allow an African military intervention in Mali "as quickly as possible."
France would provide logistical support to an African bid to recover northern Mali from the extremists now in control. Referring to the extremists, Hollande said "there is no question" of negotiating with terrorists.
On Sept. 8, the group issued a seven-minute video showing the four hostages sending greetings to their families and pleading they not be forgotten.
The hostages urged French President Francois Hollande to negotiate for their release with their captors.
Al-Qaida in North Africa grew out Algerian Islamist groups the fought the government in the 1990s. They have been largely driven out of northern Algeria but offshoots have flourished in the poorly governed wastes of the Sahara desert and the Sahel, where they have linked up with smuggling networks and involved in kidnapping foreigners for ransom.
When a Tuareg tribal rebellion wrested control of northern Mali from the government, al-Qaida took advantage of the situation and allied with local Islamists to dominate the whole area.