French foreign minister en route to pick up hostages

22nd December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 22 (AFP) - France's foreign minister Michel Barnier left Paris early Wednesday on board an air force plane to pick up two French journalists released after four months as hostages in Iraq, the defence ministry said.

PARIS, Dec 22 (AFP) - France's foreign minister Michel Barnier left Paris early Wednesday on board an air force plane to pick up two French journalists released after four months as hostages in Iraq, the defence ministry said.

The exact destination of the plane, which was also carrying relatives of the two men, was not given, although officials indicated it was either the Jordanian capital Amman or Cyprus.

Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot, of Le Figaro newspaper, were released Tuesday and spent the night in Baghdad.

Barnier's 14-seater Falcon 900 plane took off at 9:00 am (0800 GMT) and was expected to take around 10 hours for the round trip, giving a scheduled return time to the Villacoublay air base west of Paris in the early evening.

The two were to be greeted by President Jacques Chirac on their return and given a heroes' welcome.

Chesnot, 37, and Malbrunot, 41, were the longest-held Western hostages in Iraq. They had been seized on a road south of Baghdad on August 20.

The insurgency group that had been holding them, the Islamic Army in Iraq, said in a statement via the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera that it had freed them because of France's stance against the US-led war in Iraq and their own support for Palestinian statehood.

The journalists' Syrian driver Mohammad al-Jundi, captured at the same time as them, was found in Fallujah on November 12 after US-led forces launched an offensive to clear the city of rebels.

Hostage-taking has become common in Iraq, where chaos and bloodshed have taken hold despite efforts by a US-led military coalition to impose security.

Foreigners are particularly targeted, and several, including an aid worker with British and Iraqi nationality, Margaret Hassan, have been murdered by their captors.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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