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 knew that France was behind me because it has never left behind one of its compatriots," Prime told reporters on her arrival.

Hollande said: "Today it's a joy and I think that for Isabelle, this will be a day that will remain engrained in her memory and I hope it will wipe out five months of captivity."

"France and the Republic are honoured to have citizens like Isabelle Prime," said Hollande.

The president also urged French citizens in risky countries to exercise "extreme caution".

He paid tribute to the Sultan of Oman who had "the thanks of France" for his actions in securing Prime's 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.

- Last known French hostage -

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.

Prime stopped off in Oman before flying to Paris and the Omani foreign ministry said efforts by the Gulf nation "in coordination with certain Yemeni parties" had helped track her down.

Originally from the west of France, Prime 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, making Prime the last known French hostage.

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© 2015 AFP

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