Release vindicates policy of silent diplomacy

The release of 14 European hostages in Mali brings to an end months of uncertainty, but questions are being asked about how their freedom was secured.

This content was published on August 20, 2003 - 09:29

Switzerland and Germany have both have declined to comment on how the negotiations with the kidnappers took place and whether a ransom was paid.

Victor Mauer, a security expert at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, told swissinfo that the policy of silent diplomacy of both the German and Swiss governments had proved successful.

swissinfo: Does the successful outcome vindicate Bern's and Berlin's policies of silent diplomacy?

Victor Maurer: I think both the German and Swiss governments were very well advised to conduct their negotiations with the Algerian government in secrecy and not put the lives of the hostages at risk.

swissinfo: How do you think the negotiations were carried out?

V.M.: We know that neither the German nor the Swiss government could conduct direct negotiations. This was first left to the Algerian government and then to the government of Mali.

swissinfo: How do you think the release could have been achieved without the payment of a ransom?

V.M.: The problem is that we don’t really know whether money has been paid to the kidnappers. I assume that the government of Mali paid quite a substantial amount of up to €4 million (SFr6.2 million) to the hostage-takers.

So the money would not have come from the Swiss or German governments. However, in the end it might actually be returned to the Malian government by way of paying development aid.

swissinfo: Should the tourists be held at least partly responsible for their situation?

V.M.: The area where the 32 people were taken hostage was not considered to be among the most dangerous places. I would neither blame them [the tourists] nor make them pay part of the ransom money for their release.

swissinfo: The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has described the release as a victory against terrorism. Is that how you would see it?

V.M.: As far as I know the kidnappers have not been captured, so it is very difficult to see it as a victory. I would not quite agree with the German chancellor.

swissinfo: How could this hostage saga affect Swiss or German citizens travelling abroad in the future?

V.M.: It is not only German or Swiss tourists. I think both governments will issue warnings and advise their citizens not to travel to parts of Africa where they consider terrorists or simply criminals being at work.

swissinfo: How does this whole hostage crisis reflect on the governments of Berlin and Bern?

V.M.: Both governments have done very well in conducting silent diplomacy with their Algerian and Malian counterparts.

The negotiations, especially with the Algerian government, have at times been very difficult. The negotiations with Mali were extremely efficient.

swissinfo: There has been a lot of speculation of who the kidnappers might be linked to. Can you shed any light on that?

V.M.: We seem to know that there is no direct link to al-Qaeda but it is a terrorist group that tries to topple the Algerian government and to establish a fundamentalist state in Algeria.

swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh

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