French go-between claims to be with hostages

1st October 2004, Comments 0 comments

DAMASCUS, Oct 1 (AFP) - A Frenchman presenting himself as an unofficial negotiator said on Friday that he was with two French reporters being held hostage in Iraq, raising hopes that the men may soon be freed.

DAMASCUS, Oct 1 (AFP) - A Frenchman presenting himself as an unofficial negotiator said on Friday that he was with two French reporters being held hostage in Iraq, raising hopes that the men may soon be freed.  

Philippe Brett said in a radio interview given by mobile telephone that he was currently in Iraq but would not say where exactly.  

When asked if he was with Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, both of whom were kidnapped August 20 along with their Syrian driver south of Baghdad, Brett told the Europe 1 station: "The response is yes."  

He added: "I think that within the next 10 hours or so, I'll be able to (talk to you) with a great deal of pleasure."  

French MP Didier Julia, considered the leader of the unofficial negotiating team, later said in Damascus that Brett was en route for the Syrian capital, but declined to say whether the missing journalists were with him.  

"Concerning the presence of the French journalists, I will only communicate (that information) when I have them in front of me," said Julia, a member of President Jacques Chirac's UMP party and vice president of the Iraqi-French Friendship Group.  

Chesnot, 37, Malbrunot 41, and their Syrian driver Mohammed al-Jundi are being held by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.  

Julia, whose mission has not been officially sanctioned by Paris, told Le Parisien newspaper on Thursday that he met members of the Islamic Army in Iraq in September in Jordan.  

"They told me they were having big difficulties with the French authorities. So I decided to send in a mission," he said.  

Following a meeting with the French ambassador to Damascus Friday, Julia said that "we are walking hand in hand with the French (foreign ministry) in this business," despite the fact that Chirac and the foreign ministry have both distanced themselves from Julia's initiative.  

Meanwhile, a senior French foreign ministry official arrived in Jordan early Friday as part of mounting efforts to secure the journalists' release.  

Jean-Pierre Lafon will "work on the fate of the hostages," Ambassador Jean Michel Caza said, without providing details. "He is here, he is working and we do not know how long he will be here."  

Julia's aides in Damascus said the journalists' release depended on the security situation around the rebel-held town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.  

"Their liberation is assured, but their exit is being blocked by American bombardment in the Fallujah area. We are trying to ensure safe passage for the intermediary who is to go and bring the journalists out to Baghdad before they leave Iraq for France," Philippe Evano told AFP.  

"The two journalists were kidnapped by highway bandits and then were handed over to the resistance who now want to set them free, but only if they can do it in total security," Evano said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article