De Villepin optimistic for release of Iraq hostages

20th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

THIONVILLE, France, Sept 20 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin expressed guarded optimism Monday that two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq would be freed, one month after their capture by Islamic militants.

THIONVILLE, France, Sept 20 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin expressed guarded optimism Monday that two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq would be freed, one month after their capture by Islamic militants.  

"We want to believe that all of the information that we have is leading in the right direction," de Villepin told reporters during a visit to Thionville, northeastern France.  

"The situation is extremely tense in Iraq, in Baghdad. Of course, all of this context weighs on the fate of our hostages," the minister said.  

Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot, Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot and their Syrian driver Mohammed al-Jundi were kidnapped on August 20 south of Baghdad.  

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.  

The shadowy organization initially demanded that Paris rescind a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, but France implemented the law as planned in early September.  

In the days immediately following the kidnapping, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier spearheaded a high-profile diplomatic campaign to secure the release of the two journalists, shuttling between Middle Eastern capitals.  

Hopes of an imminent release were raised several times by declarations from officials, Muslim clerics, media outlets and self-declared mediators or Islamic experts, but one month later, Chesnot and Malbrunot are still in captivity.  

The left-leaning newspaper Liberation said in a commentary that France's diplomatic onslaught had backfired, noting: "More discretion would have been desirable."  

"Reverting to a more prudent course of action does not in any way guarantee the success of Paris's efforts. At least it does not compromise that success. The past month has brought with it a lesson about modesty," the paper said.  

A statement attributed to the Islamic Army in Iraq and received in an e-mail at the weekend by the London-based Islamic Observatory said the two French hostages would be released, but Paris had not yet confirmed its authenticity.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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