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S. Africa battles to secure release of hostages held by al-Qaeda militants

Xinhua, November 24, 2016 Adjust font size:

South Africa's disaster relief organization Gift of the Givers said Wednesday it is still battling to secure freedom for their compatriots held hostage by al-Qaeda militants in Timbuktu, Mali.

Yehia Dicko, negotiator of the organization, is currently in

Mali and will meet the influential people on the Algerian border to negotiate the release of Stephen McGown, who was taken hostage five years ago, and another hostage Gustafsson, said Imtiaz Sooliman, founder, director and chairman of the Gift of the Givers.

Sooliman added that tribal, religious and spiritual leaders are now negotiating with al-Qaeda for the release of the two. The rebels had asked the South African and Swedish governments for 5 million euros (5.25 million U.S. dollars) each in ransom.

"We responded that the governments don't talk to terrorists nor pay any ransoms," he said.

The militants have also demanded the release of the two in exchange of prisoners either from Mali or Niger, which was also declined by the Gift of the Givers.

The South African organization has distributed food and water during the Islamic month of Ramadaan, built boreholes and upgraded places of worship to encourage the rebels to release the hostages.

"We pray that by this Christmas we succeed in securing an unconditional release as we have run out of options," Sooliman said.

Malcolm McGown, father of Stephen McGown, told Xinhua that they are hoping that the government, the Gift of Givers and the international community could assist in the release of his son.

"The last five years has been very difficult to us as a family. We do not have the means to pay the ransom money demanded by al-Qaeda." he said.