'Exorbitant' demands made for Aubenas release

13th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 13 (AFP) - The French left-wing daily Liberation dedicated its Monday edition to the release of senior correspondent Florence Aubenas after five months of captivity in Iraq, speaking of a shadowy intermediary involved in securing freedom for her and her Iraqi interpreter.

PARIS, June 13 (AFP) - The French left-wing daily Liberation dedicated its Monday edition to the release of senior correspondent Florence Aubenas after five months of captivity in Iraq, speaking of a shadowy intermediary involved in securing freedom for her and her Iraqi interpreter.   

Aubenas, 44, arrived back here on Sunday, following her release by her kidnappers, and thanked the French public and media for a campaign of support she said sustained her through the "severe" conditions of her captivity.  

She told journalists she had been kept blindfolded, with her hands and feet bound, in a cellar somewhere in Baghdad during her detention.  

Looking thin, but relaxed and smiling, with sunglasses perched back in her hair and wearing a blue t-shirt and cardigan, she said she would give a full account of her experience in a news conference on Tuesday.  

Her release triggered a way of joy across France and elsewhere in Europe.  

That was tempered, however, by concerns for the dozens of other hostages of other nationalities still being held in Iraq.  

French President Jacques Chirac, who greeted Aubenas at the airport along with her relatives, also thanked the country for their support of the kidnapped journalist and of her Iraqi interpreter Hussein Hanun, both of whom were abducted as they left a Baghdad hotel on January 5.  

Hanun, who was also released, returned to his home in Baghdad in a French embassy car. On getting out he was emotionally greeted by his deliriously happy wife and his family.  

The Liberation, in a special edition, chronicled their correspondent's 157 days in captivity. It spoke of an intermediary, dubbed "The Imprecator" and the troubled role of maverick French deputy Didier Julia, known for his contacts with Syria and the former Baathist regime in Iraq.  

Two of Julia's assistants are facing criminal prosecution for harming the interests of the state after an abortive bid to free two other French journalists last September. The pair were later released into French government hands.  

"The Imprecator was one of the first to make contact with the French authorities (in January) to present demands deemed 'exorbitant'," the paper said.  

By late April the Imprecator, so-called because of his yelling, threatening style of negotiation, was being seen "more and more as a key figure," according to Liberation.  

Negotiations became complicated because "the group holding Florence and Hussein appeared divided or were implementing several plans and intermediaries at the same time".  

Associates of maverick ruling party deputy Julia had repeatedly announced the "imminent release" of Aubenas, and would subsequently accuse the French government of missing a golden opportunity to do so, the paper said.     

In March, Aubenas appeared in a video appealing for Julia's help. He was warned by then Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin not to interfere with official efforts to secure her freedom.  

French authorities did not identify the hostage-takers.  

The government denied suggestions that a ransom was exchanged for the pair's release.  

On June 5 the French authorities spoke for the first time of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  

Aubenas and Hanun emerged smiling from that long tunnel on Sunday.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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