DAKAR - An Italian and two Spanish hostages were freed in northern Mali on Wednesday by the al-Qaida-linked MUJWA Islamist group, according to a spokesman for Ansar Dine, another Islamist group operating in the zone.

"We have been told that the three hostages have been freed in the region of Gao," Sanda Ould Boumama told Reuters, adding that he believed the trio were in the hands of mediators from Burkina Faso, the region's main hostage negotiator.

The three aid workers were seized in a refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria, last October and were believed to have been transferred to northern Mali, now controlled by a mix of Islamists groups, since then.

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