Algerian diplomats freed after two years' captivity in Mali

Members of Islamic group of Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) stand guard near the Gao, Mali on August 7, 2012 (AFP Photo/Romaric Ollo Hien)

Algiers (AFP) - Two Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Mali in April 2012 by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) were freed on Saturday, the Algerian foreign ministry announced.

A third diplomat, consul Boualem Sayes, had died in captivity "from a chronic illness", the ministry said.

It did not say whether Mourad Guessas and Kedour Miloudi had been released by their kidnappers or had been freed in a military operation.

The ministry did say, however, that Algeria had not paid a ransom to secure their freedom.

The two were released "after intense and tireless efforts" by authorities using "the utmost discretion", a statement said.

It also confirmed for the first time the execution, reported in September 2012, of vice-consul Tahar Touati, describing his death as an "odious assassination".

"The Algerian government stresses the necessity of continuing unabated the fight against terrorism and its multiple connections -- drug trafficking and organised crime," the ministry added.

The information was confirmed by a security source in Mali, who told AFP: "A wing of the armed groups in northern Mali managed on Friday night to secure the release of two Algerian diplomats from the hands of MUJAO."

The source said the hostages were released in the Algerian desert town of Bordj Badji Mokhtar, on the border with Mali.

Algeria's consul in Gao, in northeastern Mali, and six of his staff were taken hostage by MUJAO on April 5, 2012 while the Islamist militants were in control of the city.

Three jihadist groups, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and MUJAO, in 2012 took control of much of the desert north of Mali, including the three main towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

French troops later expelled them.