French President François Hollande has told Al-Qaida kidnappers in Mali to free six French hostages "before it is too late" after one of their leaders declared that their lives were in because of France's support for a military intervention in the north of the country.
"Free them before it is too late," Hollande told Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) in Kinshasa on Saturday.
The French president stuck to his guns in backing the planned Ecowas/African Union force that is to be sent to reunite Mali, large parts of which are now under the control of Tuareg separatists and armed Islamist groups.
Hollande was responding to Islamist rebel leader Oumar Ould Hamaha, who on Saturday warned that France's backing for Friday's UN Security Council resolution on Mali endangered the hostages and could even lead to an attempt on Hollande's own life.
"The lives of the French hostages are now in danger because of statements by the French president who wants to wage war against us," said Hamaha, claimed membership in the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao). "His own life is now in danger. He needs to know this."
Mujao is linked to Aqim, which is holding 10 Europeans hostage and had already threatened to kill the six French captives if France intervenes in Mali.
He added that Hollande wants to "open the door to hell" for the hostages and hinted that his movement might capture more.
"If we wanted to take French hostages in west Africa or even in France, we could do so easily," he said.
But Hollande pledged to continue the "war on terrorism" at a press conference in Kinshasa, where he was attending the Francophonie summit.
"It's by showing great determination to stick to our policy, which is that of war on terrorism, that we can convince the hostage-takers that it is now time to release our hostages," he said.
Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Mourad Medelci played down differences with France over Mali after meeting French Interior Minister Manuel Valls in Algiers this weekend.
They had sometimes been "exaggerated", he said, adding that his country supports the UN Security Council resolution.
Algerian ministers reportedly feared being squeezed out of the Mali operation if Ecowas was in charge. They have been accused of involvement with Aqim.
Valls, who was set to meet Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia in the evening, hailed his remarks as "very important".