An al qaeda-linked Islamist group in Mali said on Saturday it was ready to negotiate the release of a French hostage, as a French-led offensive to rout Islamists from the north gathered steam.
"The MUJAO is ready to negotiate the release of Gilberto," said Walid Abu Sarhaoui, spokesman for the Movement for Jihad and Oneness, speaking to AFP on the telephone, referring to Gilberto Rodriguez Leal who was kidnapped in November.
The spokesman, speaking on the 16th day of the French-led campaign which has halted the Islamist advance south, said: "We Muslims can come to an understanding on the issue of war."
Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, a 61-year-old French national of Portuguese origin, was seized on November 20 by armed men in western Mali near the border with Senegal and Mauritania while travelling by car.
His kidnapping was claimed by MUJAO.
A total of seven French hostages are being held in the Sahel, of whom six are captives of al qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.