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Kidnapped tourists freed in Niger Kidnapped tourists freed in Niger
(about 1 hour later)
Two Italian tourists kidnapped in the Sahara desert in Niger last August by an armed group have been freed after Libyan mediation. Two Italian tourists have been freed after being kidnapped by an armed group in Niger two months ago.
The men were part of a group of more than 20 tourists ambushed and robbed by the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara. They two were freed after Libyan mediation. They said they had initially been held in very bad conditions, without adequate food and water.
The two are in the Libyan capital Tripoli awaiting their return home. They were seized in August near the Chad border, in an area that is notorious for bandit activity.
They were seized in an area near the Chadian border which is notorious for bandit activity. They were ambushed and robbed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara along with about 20 others.
Most were released the following day.
Personal gain
Claudio Chiodi and Ivano de Capitani are expected to return to Italy on Saturday, after arriving in the Libyan capital during Friday night.
Seeming relaxed after his ordeal, Mr Chiodi described how he was kept in "very bad" conditions for the first two weeks after their capture.
"They initially told us they were taking us hostage to highlight their demands for Niger's government to respect human rights," he said.
"But at the end we discovered that their motives were personal gains. They are bandits.
Claudio Chiodi said he was denied food and water
"Our conditions were very bad. We lived without food and water for two weeks."
They spent 55 days in the hands of their captors, much of it reportedly in a mountain hideout close to the Niger-Chad border.
Mr Chiodi said that some of his captors were of Chadian origin and had originally planned to kidnap French visitors, because of the strong connections between the French and Niger governments.
Niger has suffered periodic rebellions in its vast Sahara regions for decades.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara are the major rebel group among the Toubou, an ethnic group who mainly live in the north of Chad and southern Libya around the Tibesti mountains in the central Sahara.
The Toubou and Tuareg peoples in the Sahara desert fought a prolonged rebellion against the Niger government in the mid-1990s, but the region has been relatively calm in recent years.
Hostage negotiations
The men were released thanks to the intervention of a charity associated with Libya's leader Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi.
Saleh Abdel-Salam, the director of the Gaddafi Charity Foundation, said negotiations for the men's release had been long and difficult but that they had been released unconditionally.
The charity has previously had success in gaining the release of three Germans kidnapped in the Philippines by Islamic militants in 2000.
It also claimed success in securing the freedom of 32 Europeans captured by suspected Islamists in Algeria in 2003.