The nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutchman flew in from Mali's capital Bamako, where they had been handed over to their countries' authorities, in the presence of mediators who secured their release.

The German air force plane carrying them touched down at the military part of Cologne airport in western Germany after a six-hour flight from Mali.

Their arrival rung down the curtains on one of the most sensational hostage dramas.

The 14 were among the 32 foreign tourists, seized five months earlier by members of a suspected Islamist group while travelling through the Sahara.

"Its seems important to me that the kidnappers don’t escape unpunished."

-- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder

Seventeen of the hostages were later released by Algerian commandos, while a German tourist died of heat stroke.

The release of the final 14 hostages came after intense negotiations.

The kidnappers kept their captives on the move, hiding among rocks and dunes of the vast Sahara desert.

Quoting unnamed government sources, the German ARD public television channel reported that Germany had paid a rasom of 4.6 million euros to the hostage-takers.

The German government has not commented on the report.

But amid speculations about what brought about the release of the hostages, Mali's President, Amadou Toumani Toure, thanked Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi for helping.

But no details were given as to how the Libyan leader had helped.

But German Chancello,r Gerhard Schroeder ,said efforts would be made to track down the kidnappers.

"Its seems important to me that the kidnappers don’t escape unpunished," he said in a statement.

"That is why German security authorities will support the Algerian and Malian partners in everything that could help seize the kidnappers and put them on trial," he added.