France rejects 'absurd' Taliban hostage spy claims

1st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

France rejected as "absurd" Saturday Taliban claims that two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan for more than a year may have been spying, and said it was committed to securing their release.

A Taliban spokesman accused France earlier Saturday of not paying "much attention" to its demands for the release of Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, whom it said had been intelligence gathering rather than reporting.

French authorities "categorically deny the absurd accusation of spying made against our compatriots," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ghesquiere and Taponier were merely two journalists kidnapped while exercising their profession, it said.

"For a year, there have been constant talks to allow our compatriots to return to their families safe and sound," it said.

"The determination of the French authorities remains unbroken today and, as the president (Nicolas Sarkozy) recalled on Friday, we will continue to mobilise all our efforts until the day they are freed," it said.

A support committee for the journalists for France 3 public television said the Taliban suggestions that the men were spying was "completely uncalled for and baseless".

"We assert loud and clear that our friends are really journalists," spokeswoman Patricia Philibert told AFP. "Journalists always ask difficult questions, that is how we know that they are good journalists," she said.

Philibert did however question the will of the French authorities in negotiating an end to the journalists' ordeal.

They were captured with three Afghan colleagues while travelling without a military escort in an area northwest of Kabul known as a stronghold of anti-government Islamic militants such as the Taliban.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP the group had presented the French government with conditions for their release but "unfortunately they have not paid much attention".

The men were captured because "they were engaged in gathering information that has the nature of intelligence gathering", he said.

© 2011 AFP

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