Mali opens corridor for hostages
Bamako - Two Spanish hostages freed by al-Qaeda's North African branch were escorted via a specially secured route out of Mali, where the two had been held, a Malian government minister said on Monday.
"Mali followed the release of the hostages minute by minute, by opening a humanitarian corridor to secure the success of the operation," said the minister who requested anonymity.
He did not say where this route was or where the hostages were at present.
A security source in the Sahel as well as Spanish media said the hostages, Albert Vilalta, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, had to travel to the border with Burkina Faso.
The deserts of Mali is where the two Spaniards were held captive by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Mali has been the hotbed of other kidnappings of foreigners. In July the Mauritanian army helped by France attacked an al-Qaeda base in the desert killing several militants, who in retaliation executed their French hostage.
On Monday the Malian minister claimed to have played a role in the Spanish hostages release along with Burkina Faso "with whom we have worked hand in hand".
Francesc Osan, head of the Catalan aid group Accio Solidaria, for which the hostages worked at the time of their kidnap in Mauritania in November, said they were now in a "safe area".
They were expected to arrive in Barcelona by plane "tonight", he told a press conference.
The two were kidnapped north of the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on November 29, along with a third Spaniard, 39-year-old Alicia Gamez, who was freed in March.
The release comes after the August 16 transfer from Mauritania to Mali of the kidnap mastermind, Malian national Omar Sid'Ahmed Ould Hamma, who was jailed for 12 years by a Mauritanian court.
Hamma was convicted of acting as a mercenary for al-Qaeda, kidnapping the three before handing them over for money.