Malian official: 4 prisoners exchanged for French hostage held by al-Qaida

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The Malian government says it exchanged four prisoners to secure the release of a French hostage held for three years by al-Qaida's North African branch.

The liberation of Serge Lazarevic last week revived debate among Western governments over whether to negotiate with hostage-takers.

Mali government spokesman Mahamane Baby said Sunday that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb demanded the release of six prisoners "but the government freed only four, including two Malians."

The French government has not publicly confirmed a prisoner exchange or explained the circumstances of Lazarevic's release. France insists it pays no ransoms and does not exchange prisoners, although President Francois Hollande has acknowledged that other countries have done so, "to help us."