France denies criticizing Spain over al-Qaeda ransom
France has denied criticizing Spain over a ransom Madrid allegedly paid to release two aid workers held hostage by al-Qaeda for nearly nine months, press reports said Friday.
"It cannot be our only strategy to pay ransoms and to agree to free prisoners in exchange for unlucky innocent victims," French President Nicolas Sarkozy had said earlier this week, DPA reported.
Sarkozy made the comments after Spain reportedly paid around 8 million dollars to the kidnappers of Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta, who arrived in Barcelona on Tuesday after being released in Mali.
Their release was also believed to be linked to an alleged deal between Mali and Mauritania to free a Malian al-Qaeda collaborator whom a Mauritanian court had sentenced to 12 years in prison for organizing the abduction of the Spaniards in Mauritania.
The Spanish government has not confirmed that it paid anything to the kidnappers.
French government sources said Sarkozy's words were addressed "above all" to African governments, which France had offered to help in their fight against terrorism.
Sarkozy has written to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to congratulate him for the release of the hostages, the sources said.
The release of Pascual and Vilalta contrasted with the killing of French hostage Michel Germaneau in July. Al-Qaeda said at the time it had killed Germaneau in retaliation for a French-supported military raid that left several terrorists dead.
Earlier, however, France as well as other Western governments had paid ransoms for their citizens, the Spanish daily El Pais pointed out.
Meanwhile, domestic criticism over the ransom continued in Spain.
Associations representing police officers and victims of terrorism said the government had set a dangerous precedent which could lead to more Spaniards being kidnapped abroad.
The conservative opposition has pledged to request more details on the release of Pascual and Vilalta from the government.
In 2009, Spain allegedly paid 4 million dollars to obtain the release of 36 fishermen who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates.