Cameroon hostages: French Moulin-Fournier family freed

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The adult family members have arrived at the French embassy in Yaounde

Seven members of a French family kidnapped by gunmen in northern Cameroon in February have been freed.

Cameroon's Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told the BBC the Moulin-Fournier family, including four children, were in good condition.

In a video published on YouTube, militants from the Nigerian group Boko Haram had claimed to be holding them.

The French president said France had not paid a ransom to free the family who are now in the capital, Yaounde.

The family arrived at the French embassy with a heavy security escort, the AFP news agency reports.

President Francois Hollande said secret talks had been taking place for the past few weeks to help secure their release, Reuters news agency reports.

"France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms," the agency quotes him as saying at a news conference in Paris.

"I spoke to the father this morning... He told me how happy and relieved he was."

The release of the hostages was announced on national radio in Cameroon on Friday morning.

The statement from the presidency said they had been handed over to Cameroon authorities late on Thursday.

Both the Nigerian and French governments were thanked in the statement, but no further explanation was given about how they were freed.

The French president's office said that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had immediately left for Cameroon to greet the family, AFP reported.

Mr Fabius told AFP the French hostages were freed overnight "in an area between Nigeria and Cameroon" and would be flown to France on Saturday.

Prisoner demand

The family, who live in Yaounde, where Tanguy Moulin-Fournier worked for the French gas group Suez, had been returning from a holiday in the Waza National Park in the far north of Cameroon when they were kidnapped by gunmen on motorbikes on 19 February.

Mr Moulin-Fournier, his wife Albane and four children, aged between five and 12, had been joined on their holiday by his brother Cyril.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The family, kidnapped on 19 February, is thought to have been held in Nigeria

In the YouTube video released about a week after their capture, the militants demanded the release of prisoners in Cameroon and Nigeria.

One of them also criticised President Hollande for sending troops to fight Islamist militants in northern Mali in January.

"Let the French president know that he has launched war against Islam," he said.

The French-led operation in Mali has ousted the Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda's North African branch, from cities and town in the vast desert region they had captured a year ago in the wake of a coup.

Nigeria has contributed troops to a regional African force which has begun deploying to Mali to take over from French troops.

One of the hostages in the video said his captors were "Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad" - the official name for Boko Haram, as the Islamist group is popularly known in Nigeria.

Boko Haram, which began its insurgency following a deadly crackdown on its members in 2009, had previously said it was not involved in hostage taking.

It has usually followed a Nigerian agenda, and says it wants to establish an Islamic state.

During its insurgency at least 2,000 people have been killed in northern and parts of central Nigeria.

Another Islamist group, Ansaru - which was formed in 2012 and is believed to have links to al-Qaeda - is also active in northern Nigeria and has been involved in abducting foreigners.

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