Chirac cautions journalists to stay out of Iraq

7th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 7 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Friday warned journalists to stay out of Iraq, two days after a reporter went missing in Baghdad and two weeks after the release of two correspondents held hostage for months.

PARIS, Jan 7 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Friday warned journalists to stay out of Iraq, two days after a reporter went missing in Baghdad and two weeks after the release of two correspondents held hostage for months.

Chirac said he was "worried" about the fate of 43-year-old Florence Aubenas, a senior correspondent for the French daily Liberation who has not been seen since leaving her hotel in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday.

Just three weeks ahead of planned landmark elections in the violence-wracked country, the French president said the safety of reporters on the ground could not be guaranteed.

"Today, we have no news of your colleague and we are worried. Naturally, we are mobilising all possible means to obtain information and to find her," Chirac told reporters attending a New Year's reception at the Elysee palace.

"I want to reiterate that the French authorities have formally advised against sending journalists" to Iraq, the president said.

"For everyone, it's a question of responsibility. At the current time, the security of our correspondents cannot be ensured."

Chirac said while he understood "the demands of the profession," there were clear limits, adding: "It's not good to put people's lives in jeopardy".

Aubenas and her Iraqi translator Hussein Hanoun Al-Saadi left their Baghdad hotel early Wednesday and have not been seen or heard from since, Liberation said Thursday.

"We don't know what has happened," Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the LCI news channel.

Liberation editor-in-chief Serge July said no explanations had been ruled out, including a possible car accident, a round-up by the Iraqi police or detention by US forces at a checkpoint.

The disappearance came after the four-month captivity of French reporters Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, who were released by Iraqi insurgents on December 21.

The kidnapping and murder of foreigners in Iraq has become a frequent occurrence as rebel groups there seek to oust US and other military forces.

"We're searching, we're asking for information, we've talked with the Iraqi authorities, we have visited the hospitals," Barnier said.

"Iraq is a dangerous country, one must be very careful - a dozen journalists have been killed, several have gone missing including Fred Nerac, who disappeared more than a year ago, and others have been kidnapped," he said.

Nerac, 43, a French cameraman for the British television station ITN, went missing in March 2003 after the convoy he was travelling in came under fire, apparently from British or US forces, near Basra in southern Iraq.

"You cannot understand the scope of what we're obliged to do" to find people missing in Iraq," Chirac told reporters, saying such operations had "a significant total cost for the nation".

Chesnot and Malbrunot, who attended the presidential reception, also questioned the viability of sending special correspondents to Iraq, with Chesnot suggesting that shorter stints would make journalists less vulnerable.

Malbrunot went further, saying: "Isn't sending journalists to this country just playing the game of kidnappers who are waiting for precisely that?"

But the media watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) insisted that while Iraq remained "the world's most dangerous country for journalists", it was "essential that foreign media continue to cover the situation" there.

Liberation's chief news editor Antoine de Gaudemar wrote in Friday's edition that the paper had chosen to maintain its presence in Iraq following the kidnapping of Chesnot and Malbrunot out of duty to its readers.

Aubenas, an experienced reporter who had covered conflicts in Rwanda, Kosovo, Algeria and Afghanistan, arrived in Baghdad on December 16. She had been due to return to Paris in the coming days.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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