Chinese hostage freed in Niger

2007-07-15 16:12

Lagos - A Chinese mining company employee kidnapped by Tuareg rebels in Niger on July 6 has been handed over to the Red Cross.

The head of the rebel Movement of Niger People for Justice, Agaly Alambo, said: "We've handed over Zhang Guohua and also returned his car. The Red Cross is also going to take away three injured Niger soldiers.

Zhang works for the China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation, which is prospecting for uranium in north-eastern Niger. He was captured in the Ingall region 1about 100km south of Agadez.

The firm pulled all its workers out of the area following the kidnapping and threats from the rebels.

Alambo at the time described the seizure as an "ultimatum to the Chinese companies that co-operate with the Niger army."

The rebels say peace will not return to the north of Niger without better integration of Tuaregs into the army, paramilitary corps and the local mining sector.

Meanwhile, Niger Prime Minister Seyni Oumarou has ruled out negotiating with the rebels, who he called "assailants.

"The state will not negotiate. There will be no negotiations with whoever it is, especially with a group of armed men who want to hold Niger's interests to ransom," he said.

Media reports have said that Niger's President Mamadou Tandja is sending thousands of troops to the region for a counter-offensive against the rebels.