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U.S., Japan Urge Algeria To Safeguard Hostages' Lives


An undated photo of vehicles parked at the In Amenas gas field, jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil, and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, in eastern Algeria near the Libyan border.
The United States and Japan are urging Algeria to safeguard hostages' lives as a standoff continues between the army and remaining militants at a natural gas facility in the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington, D.C., that she spoke with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal on January 18 and "urged the utmost care be taken in the protection of the hostages, Algerian and expatriate foreign hostages."

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, appearing with Clinton during a visit to Washington, D.C., said Tokyo requests "Algeria to place the utmost priority on ensuring the safety and the lives of the hostages."

The Algerian army says it has retaken much of the natural gas facility deep in the Sahara Desert near the border with Libya but that some militants continue to hold hostages in the remaining areas of the complex.

Algerian state media says the army has killed 18 of an estimated 30 kidnappers.

The state-run APS also gave a provisional toll of 12 Algerian and foreign hostages killed since the military launched its rescue operation on January 17.

Militants have put the number of hostages killed at 35.

The United States government confirmed January 18 that an American hostage had died but gave no details.

The French government said that one Frenchman was killed in the rescue operation.

A Briton and an Algerian died on January 16 when Islamic militants seized tens of foreigners and Algerians at the facility.

The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Americans are still among the hostages being held.

However, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not reveal how many Americans were still being held hostage or if any had been freed.

She also dismissed suggestions by the militants that they would free hostages in exchange for Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui, and Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted in the United States on terrorism charges.

The militants have also demanded that France cease its involvement in an ongoing offensive against Islamists in neighboring Mali.

The British prime minister said on January 18 he was "disappointed" that Algeria did not inform other governments in advance about the rescue operation.

"We were not informed of this in advance, I was told by the Algerian prime minister while it was taking place," David Cameron said.

Reuters news agency quoted unnamed officials in Paris as saying that the French government was also not informed in advance about the operation.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP
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