French hostage freed in Yemen after six-month ordeal

7th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

Frenchwoman Isabelle Prime, freed after nearly six months of captivity in Yemen, arrived in Paris Friday to be welcomed by President Francois Hollande and her family in an emotional reunion.

The 30-year-old, who worked as a consultant on a World Bank-funded project in Yemen, touched down at Villacoublay air base near Paris after being released late Thursday.

Wearing a white top, blue cap and sunglasses, a beaming Prime spent several minutes embracing her loved ones and chatting in an apparently relaxed fashion with Hollande and other officials.

"I'm unbelievably happy. She's in good health but I don't have any further details," her father Jean-Noel told AFP after her news of her release.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius paid tribute to her "strength after all the difficulties she encountered."

Fabius also singled out the Omanis who "helped enormously" in securing her release.

"The freeing of Isabelle Prime shows once again that France never abandons one of its own," added Fabius, who spoke to Prime on Friday morning.

Isabelle was seized with her translator on February 24 as they were driving to work in the capital Sanaa. Her translator Sherine Makkaoui was freed in March.

There is no confirmation yet on the identity of her kidnappers.

- 'Every effort' -

According to the official ONA news agency in Oman, Prime arrived there early Friday from Yemen, before preparing to fly to Paris.

The Omani foreign ministry said efforts by the Gulf nation "in coordination with certain Yemeni parties" had helped track her down.

The French presidency said France had made "every effort to achieve this happy outcome" and "expresses its gratitude to all those who worked on this solution, including the Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, Sultan of Oman".

Hollande "shares the joy of the family of Isabelle, who have demonstrated great courage and great responsibility during the long wait", the statement said.

"I ...congratulate all those who worked for her release," said Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Twitter.

- 'Very secret' -

Prime, originally from the west of France, arrived in Yemen in 2013.

In June she appeared in a 21-second video posted on YouTube by her captors.

Seated on the ground and dressed in black, she appealed to the French and Yemeni presidents to secure her release.

A number of foreigners have been taken hostage in Yemen over the past 15 years, mostly by tribesmen as bargaining chips in negotiations with the government. Almost all have been freed unharmed.

But in December, US journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie died during a failed attempt by US commandos to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda hideout in southeastern Yemen.

The country has been riven by violence since a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against Huthi rebels earlier this year after they and troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh seized the capital Sanaa.

The war in Yemen has killed nearly 4,000 people, half of them civilians, while 80 percent of the 21 million population needs aid and protection, the UN says.

Prior to Prime's release, the most recent French hostage to be freed was Serge Lazarevic in December last year, after he spent three years in the hands of Islamist militants in Mali.

At the time of his release, Lazarevic was the last of more than a dozen French citizens taken captive in recent years.

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© 2015 AFP

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