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French, Dutch hostages in Mali issue pleas to their governments to negotiate their release

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PARIS — The last French hostage held in Mali by Al-Qaida's North African branch has pleaded in a video posted online for France to help negotiate his release.

French President Francois Hollande's office late Monday authenticated the video and said it constitutes "proof of life" of the hostage, Serge Lazarevic, who was captured in November 2011. Hollande's office said it was doing all it could to help gain Lazarevic's release.

The video posted by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb also shows another European hostage identified as Dutchman Sjaak Rijke, who gave the date of his video message as Sept. 26. The Dutch government has not authenticated the hostage's identity.

The SITE intelligence group which monitors jihadi online postings made the video available.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took numerous Western hostages until France intervened in Mali in January 2013 to rout the extremists. Hostage-taking has proved to be a lucrative business in Mali and other Sahel countries, but Hollande's government vows it pays no ransoms.

At one point, at least 14 French nationals were held hostage by Islamic militants in West Africa. Lazarevic is the last Frenchman held. He was captured with associate Philippe Verdon who was shot to death in March 2012 by AQIM in retaliation for France's military intervention in Malil.

Lazarevic and Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori in northeastern Mali in November 2011. Their families have said they were in the region doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory.

"I feel my life is in danger since France intervened in Iraq," Lazarevic said in the video, referring to French participation in the U.S.-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State militants. Unlike the Dutchman, he did not give any date for filming the video.

A Frenchman was captured and executed in September in Algeria by a dissident AQIM faction which broke away from the al-Qaida North Africa branch to support the Islamic State group after France joined the coalition against the Islamic State group.

Rijke, speaking in English, said he wanted to send a message to the Dutch government, according to SITE.

"As of today, I hold my government responsible for any harm that comes to me," Rijke said.

The Dutchman was kidnapped in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm, who holds dual British citizenship. A German man was killed in the attack.

Rijke was shown with an Islamic extremist-style flag behind him. The Frenchman appeared to be sitting in a truck. There was no indication where they were held or whether they were together.

Both men, bearded, spoke of health problems and addressed their families.

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