Johannesburg - The international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday stood by the credibility of a mediator who it reported on Saturday had contact with al-Qaeda militants who kidnapped a South African teacher in Yemen last year.
The authenticity of the reported mediator was called into question on Sunday by the Gift of the Givers organisation, which has been negotiating with the kidnappers of Pierre Korkie.
“AFP stands behind the article,” Andrew Beatty, news editor for Southern Africa, told Sapa in response to the Gift of the Givers’ statement.
“The source is thoroughly credible. Due to the sensitivity of the situation, he or she spoke on condition of anonymity. We will respect that wish.”
On Saturday, the agency reported that the kidnappers would not execute Pierre Korkie, despite their deadline for receiving a $3-million (about R32m) ransom expiring on Saturday. The agency quoted a mediator as its source.
The Gift of the Givers said on Sunday said it did not know who the mediator was.
“It may well be that someone could have sent this message, but how authentic is this person,” said the organisation's founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman in a statement.
“First of all, there was no tribal mediator involved in Yolande's release except our representative, Anas al-Hamati.
“Where did this mediator suddenly surface from mysteriously?”
Sooliman said in Yemen “everyone is... a 'negotiator' and a 'mediator’”.
In the nine months that the organisation had tried to locate Pierre and Yolande Korkie since their kidnapping in May, the organisation was approached by many “leaders” who, for a “decent fee”, would point out who the kidnappers were, where the Korkies were kept and how they could negotiate their release, Sooliman said.
“All of them without exception were bogus.
“I hope we don't have a similar situation here with the emergence of this mystery tribal mediator.
“Can he produce proof of life? Can he arrange for us to talk to Pierre? If not, we will not pay too much attention to this 'lead',” Sooliman said.
The mediator reportedly told AFP on Saturday that Korkie, was “still alive and the prospect of his being executed is excluded”.
He reportedly told the agency that he was in contact with the kidnappers and that the situation remained very delicate.
“They cannot free the hostage without the ransom.
“If the South African authorities demonstrate that they are prepared to respond to the demands of the kidnappers, then we can ask that the extension be prolonged,” the mediator was quoted as saying.
Gift of the Givers' negotiator Anas al-Hamati and his family fled from Yemen in late January and went to Dubai after negotiations soured.
The kidnappers had accused him of keeping the ransom money for himself.
They refused to accept that the South African government was not willing to pay the ransom.
Korkie and his relief worker wife Yolande were kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Taiz, Yemen, in May last year. Yolande Korkie was released and returned to South Africa on January 13.
Al-Hamati had been facilitating the negotiations. The last face-to-face talks were held on January 18.
Sooliman said he was concerned about Korkie's health.
“Has he survived his condition or has he passed on because of complications?
“If he passed on because of medical reasons, is that one of the reasons why al-Qaeda has maintained silence for 13 days now?
“If Pierre is gravely ill but still holding out, it is my opinion that they will not execute him for now.”
Sooliman said the al-Qaeda leaders would not allow a critically ill man to be executed as it would harm their public image.