Kidnapped French family of seven released in Cameroon

YAOUNDE (REUTERS) - A French family of seven, including four children, have been released in Cameroon following secret talks, France said on Friday, ending two months of captivity in the hands of Nigerian Islamist militants.

The family was snatched on Feb 19 by armed men on motorcycles while on holiday near the Waza national park in northern Cameroon, around 10 km from the Nigerian border.

"I spoke to the father this morning ... He told me how happy and relieved he was," French President Francois Hollande told a news conference in Paris.

"This is an immense relief. This will redouble our determination to free the hostages who remain."

Eight French hostages remain held by Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant groups in the Sahel region.

Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, secretary-general of Cameroon's presidency, said on state radio that all family members were alive and well. They were handed over to the Cameroon authorities late on Thursday.

Mostly Muslim northern Cameroon is considered an area within the operational sphere of Islamist militants including Boko Haram, Nigeria's biggest security threat.

Gunmen claiming to be from Boko Haram released videos of the family in March, threatening to kill them unless Nigeria and Cameroon released Muslim militants held in detention.

Cameroon denied it was holding any militants and it was unclear if any of the group's demands had been met.

Hollande said secret talks had been taking place to secure the hostages release for the past few weeks but he denied any ransom had been paid.

"France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms," he said.

The family was in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde where French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was due to meet them, French official said.. They would be repatriated to France as soon as possible.

Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, the father of the family, worked in Cameroon for French utility firm GDF Suez. He was kidnapped with his wife, two daughters and two sons, and his brother, who was visiting them on holiday.

The release of hostages is a rare piece of good news for Hollande's government, which is struggling to cut unemployment and has been hit by a tax fraud scandal forced its budget minister to resign.