DOHA (Reuters) - France has "all reason" to believe that the French hostages being held by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are alive, President Francois Hollande said on Sunday.
The Islamist group said in a statement posted on its Twitter account on Saturday that eight European hostages, including five from France, were safe.
The message repeated previous statements by AQIM that it would kill the hostages if there were any new French military intervention in North Africa, but said it remained open to negotiations to free them.
"We are still looking for contacts, we have all reason to believe that the hostages are alive but we must seek to free them," Holland said during a visit to Qatar.
The AQIM statement coincided with rallies across France organized by the families of French hostages who were seized in Niger in September 2010 to mark more than 1,000 days of captivity.
French newspapers have reported the hostages had been transferred to Algeria and were in the hands of AQIM's new chief, Yahia Abou el Hamam. The French government declined to comment on the report.
(Reporting by Julien Ponthus, Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Alison Williams)