Italian tourist seized in Niger says not prisoner

DAKAR (Reuters) - An Italian tourist seized by a Saharan rebel group on the border between Niger and Chad told Reuters on Wednesday he was no longer a prisoner but was seeking a safe way to leave the rebels' remote desert hideout.

"I am not a prisoner ... I consider myself free," Claudio Chiodi told Reuters by satellite phone. He said a second Italian tourist taken with him was also safe.

"At this moment the problem is to find a road to leave," he said, adding there were land mines around the rebels' mountain hideout.

Chiodi said members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara (FARS) who had been holding him hostage were sitting on carpets around him discussing the best way to ensure the safe release of the two men.

Italian diplomats have been working with Niger's armed forces to try to ensure the release of the two hostages, but their precise location remains unclear and the captors had threatened to kill the tourists if they were attacked.

"These people are guaranteeing our safety. Many people try to catch us, this is the problem," Chiodi said, speaking broken English. He added that Niger's authorities, who have washed their hands of the case, considered him a rebel sympathiser.

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