South African aid group works to free hostages

AP News
Posted: Jul 23, 2015 9:13 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A video showing a South African and a Swedish hostage alive in Mali after three years, is a sign that their captors are willing to negotiate, the founder of a South African humanitarian organization said Thursday.

Gift of the Givers, a South African humanitarian organization, has begun efforts to negotiate the freedom of South African Stephen Malcolm McGowan and Swedish citizen Johan Gustafsson, said founder Imtiaz Sooliman. Gift of the Givers was approached by the hostages' families after the aid group negotiated the release of a South African held in Yemen.

Last month a video was posted online showing Gustafsson and McGowan appealing to their governments to negotiate for their freedom.

The video is a sign that the men's captors are open to negotiations, said Sooliman.

"You don't keep broadcasting proof of life videos unless you want a reaction, and that reaction is 'We want to talk to you,'" said Sooliman. Gift of the Givers has identified a negotiator well-known by local Malian tribes who will try to build a relationship with the kidnappers.

"I hope that something can be done. I hope that a negotiation can be brokered with mujahidin," McGowan says in the video. He and the Swede have long beards and wear loose fitting clothing. They show no obvious signs of ill health.

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It is believed the men are being held by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the north African wing of the international group. Earlier videos of the hostages identified the captors as belonging to al-Qaida, said Sooliman. The June video bears a logo that appears to be that of the group's media arm, al-Andalus.

Gustafsson and McGowan were abducted in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu in northern Mali. A Dutch national kidnapped along with them was rescued by French special forces in April.