Didier Julia, controversial Gaullist maverickbehind hostage 'negotiations' drama

4th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 2 (AFP) - The man at the centre of efforts to free two French hostages in Iraq is a Gaullist maverick with half-a-century's experience of the Arab world and a reputation for pursuing his own, sometimes controversial diplomacy.

PARIS, Oct 2 (AFP) - The man at the centre of efforts to free two French hostages in Iraq is a Gaullist maverick with half-a-century's experience of the Arab world and a reputation for pursuing his own, sometimes controversial diplomacy.  

Veteran parliamentary deputy Didier Julia, a vociferous opponent of the war in Iraq, has led an unofficial mediation effort to free journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.  

Julia claimed Friday in Damascus US forces had torpedoed his efforts to free the men, abducted along with their Syrian driver on August 20, by firing on a convoy allegedly bringing them out of Iraq via Syria. The US military denied the accusation.  

Julia's unofficial mission has caused tension with French authorities.  

President Jacques Chirac's office denied on Thursday that the head of state had asked Julia, 70, to negotiate the journalists' release.  

Chirac termed Julia's mission "interference" and said he hoped it would not thwart the delicate process of bringing about the release of the hostages, aides said Saturday.  

Julia, with a record 34 years in France's National Assembly, has taken an increasing interest in Iraq over the last 10 years.  

He was critical of the international embargo on Saddam Hussein's regime during the 1990s, and, like the French government itself, has also opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.  

But he has more than once been at loggerheads with both his government and his party.  

Julia is normally on good terms with Chirac, but closely collaborates with another Gaullist deputy, Thierry Mariani, a supporter of Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, arch-rival of Chirac.  

Julia and Mariani have frequently travelled to Iraq to the displeasure of France's foreign ministry.  

Their efforts at parallel diplomacy in Baghdad in September 2002 upset the then foreign minister Dominique de Villepin.   

Julia has also had his differences with his party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).  

He clashed with former prime minister Alain Juppe, when Juppe, as UMP chairman, chose party treasurer Eric Woerth instead of Julia as head of the party's France-Iraq group.  

Julia's interest in the Arab world began in 1952 as an archaeologist in Egypt, and developed over 50 years into a wide network of intellectual and political contacts and friendships.  

He went to Baghdad in March 2003 just before the war, saying he was there "for culture purposes, to protect the archaeological heritage."  

If there were a war, Iraq risked having its archaeological sites looted, he warned.  

He was proved right.  The Iraq Museum in Baghdad, one of the world's leading archaeological museums, was comprehensively looted after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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