Germany's State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Jurgen Chrobog, on Friday made a lightning trip to Mali where, after meeting with Mali's highest authorities, he declared that a solution to the hostage crisis was "imminent".
The highlight of Chrobog's visit, which lasted about three hours, was a meeting with Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure to discuss efforts toward releasing 15 European tourists who have been taken hostage by a Pro-islamist Algerian group called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).
The 15, including 10 Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch, were kidnapped by GSPC in southern Algeria earlier this year. They were brough across the border to the northern town Tessalit in late July, prompting the involvment of the Malian authorities.
The Malian government has set up a mediation team, comprised of Malian Tuaregs, who share close cultural and ethnic links with the kidnappers, to negociate the release of the hostages.
After his meeting with President Toure, the German senior diplomat, who expressed confidence in a successful outcome, said the negociations had entered a "decisive" phase and that a solution was "imminent". He denied media reports which in past weeks had said that some of the hostages were in poor health and that the German government had sent a medical plane to treat the hostages.
However Malian military sources told IRIN that the kidnappers, which according to media reports are led by a former Algerian soldier named Abderrezak Amari, accepted this week that food and medicine be sent to the hostages.
Malian media reports had also reported that the kidnappers had asked for a ransom of US $95 million.
A day earlier, Chrobog was in Algeria where he met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
President Toure has added two members to the mediation team led by a former leader of the Tuareg rebellion, Iyad Ag Agaly. The new members are Colonel Amadou Baba Toure, a former director of intelligence from 1991 to 1992, and another Tuareg leader, Baba Ould Cheick, sources said, adding that the delegation left on Monday to pursue negociations.
Ag Agaly played a prominent role in a Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali from 1990 to 1996. He was chosen by the Malian government because of his people's close family, cultural and trade links with the Algerian tribesmen who kidnapped the hostages on the other side of the porous border.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions