$60 million ransom demanded for aid-workers & Algerian diplomats held in northern Mali
Washington, DC (May 9) — Today marks day 200 of captivity for Western aid-workers Rossella Urru, from Italy, and Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón and Enric Gonyacons, from Spain, who were kidnapped October 23 from the Polisario-run refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria by an al-Qaeda offshoot, with assistance from camp insiders. The kidnap victims are reportedly being held in northern Mali.
Last week, a spokesperson for the Movement for Oneness & Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) demanded $60 million for the two women aid-workers, Urru and Rincón, and seven Algerian diplomats abducted on April 5 when northern Mali was overrun. No mention was made of Gonyacons, the third hostage seized in the Polisario-run camps. The high ransom was seen as a setback for efforts to free the hostages. MUJAO says negotiations continue for the two women, but yesterday issued Algeria an ultimatum to meet its demands in 30 days or the Algerian hostages’ lives would be in danger.
Al-Qaeda’s consolidation of power in northern Mali, which this week saw the burning of a UNESCO World Heritage Site by extremists in Timbuktu, highlights growing volatility in Africa’s Sahara/Sahel. This poses a growing danger to the region, especially as it spills into the area controlled by the Polisario in southwest Algeria. New evidence and experts from Carnegie Endowment, Atlantic Council, and International Center for Terrorism Studies document that the Polisario-run camps have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers.
Polisario members have been reported to be involved in drug/arms trafficking, armed incursions into Mali, as Qaddafi mercenaries in Libya, and kidnappings and collaboration with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A recent Carnegie Paper calls deteriorating conditions in the camps “a tinderbox waiting to explode” and links between AQIM and members of the Polisario-run camps “a major security threat to the Maghreb and the Sahel.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion—and US aid exceeds $300 million. Given escalating security concerns, a new report recommends that US support to UNHCR for the camps also be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
* For a Report/Chronology on Polisario-camp member links to AQIM/traffickers: http://moroccoonthemove.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/thecasefordurablesolutions-chronology.pdf
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