April 9, 2012 / 2:27 PM / in 7 years

Algeria says hostages still held, may shut Mali border

ALGIERS, April 9 (Reuters) - Algeria said on Monday it could not confirm a report that seven of its diplomats abducted in rebel-held northern Mali had been freed, and threatened to shut its border crossings to stop the chaos there spilling over.

Algeria’s El Watan newspaper reported on Sunday that the seven were freed, but Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci was quoted by the official APS news agency as saying: “There is no information regarding the release.”

The diplomats were abducted last week from the town of Gao, part of a swathe of territory in northern Mali now under the control of Tuareg-led separatists.

A spokesman for the separatists said an Islamist group with ties to the separatists was behind the abduction. The hostages are Algeria’s consul in Gao and six consular staff, according to the Algerian foreign ministry.

The option of shutting its border with Mali was raised by Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia.

“Our borders are strictly controlled, but the possibility of their closure is not excluded. We will work with the foreign ministry to decide,” APS quoted Ould Kablia as saying.

Even if Algeria closes official border crossings, it is unlikely it will be able to stop movement across the frontier, which stretches for hundreds of kilometres (miles) through inhospitable desert.

Tuareg separatists pushed Mali’s military out of the north of the country over the past few weeks. Their offensive was helped by weapons smuggled out of nearby Libya and by the distraction caused by a military coup in Mali’s capital, Bamako. (Reporting By Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)

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