French FM takes hostage crisis mission to Qatar

1st September 2004, Comments 0 comments

DOHA, Sept 1 (AFP) - Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani called Wednesday for the release of two French journalists in Iraq and for "respect" for France's political system and laws, after meeting French counterpart Michel Barnier.

DOHA, Sept 1 (AFP) - Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani called Wednesday for the release of two French journalists in Iraq and for "respect" for France's political system and laws, after meeting French counterpart Michel Barnier.  

"We appeal for sparing the French journalists. We hope they will be freed promptly," he told a joint news conference with Barnier, in Doha as part of a mission to obtain the release of the pair.  

Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who went missing August 20, are being held by a Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is demanding that France rescind a law banning the Islamic headscarf in state schools.  

"Whether we agree or not, we must respect the French decision on this issue," Sheikh Hamad said of the French law, which also applies to other "conspicuous" religious insignia.  

"We respect the French decision," he added.  

The ban is due to come into force on Thursday with the start of the new academic year.  

The Qatari foreign minister said his country was "exerting efforts" to help free the hostages but was not actually engaged in a "mediation." He did not elaborate.  

Barnier, who had already been to Egypt and Jordan to seek their help to free the hostages, said Paris was "touched by expressions of solidarity" such as that of Qatar.  

He reiterated what he said on earlier stops about Chesnot and Malbrunot, stressing that they "know this region well and have affection for the Arab world."  

France's chief diplomat later visited the headquarters of the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which has broadcast videotaped messages from the abducted journalists.  

The Qatar-based station, which regularly airs videotapes of armed groups claiming the abduction or execution of hostages, appealed Monday for the immediate release of the French newsmen.  

A second ultimatum set by the kidnappers expired late Tuesday with no fresh news of the fate of the two men, who warned that their lives were at risk if France did not scrap the headscarf law.  

Pope John Paul II Wednesday joined worldwide appeals for the pair's liberation as the French government held crisis meetings in Paris to save their lives.  

The newsmen appeared on Al-Jazeera Monday night, calling on their government to rescind the ban.  

"Failure to revoke it might cost us our lives. It's a question of time - maybe minutes - before we are among the dead," Chesnot said.  

But France has made clear that the headscarf ban - part of a "secularity" law aimed at reinforcing the separation of religion and state - will go ahead regardless when schools reopen Thursday.  

The Islamic Army of Iraq has already executed an Italian journalist and two Pakistanis it was holding.  

But it has freed a Filipino, whose government caved in to the group's demands for an early withdrawal of Philippine troops from Iraq.  

The group has also announced it is holding Fereydun Jahani, diplomat for Iraq's Shiite neighbour Iran, whose fate remains unknown.  

Before appearing on Al-Jazeera, neither journalist had been heard from since August 20, when they left Baghdad for the Shiite holy city of Najaf, intending to cover the clashes then raging between US troops and rebel militiamen.  

The Amman-based Chesnot is the author of a 1993 book on the struggle between Israel and the Arab states for the Middle East's scant water resources. Malbrunot specialised in Palestinian affairs and had long followed the intifada from Jerusalem.

 

 

© AFP

Subject: French news

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