French hostages 'alive,negotiations resumed'

13th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 13 (AFP) - Two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq in August are still alive, and "indirect" negotiations have resumed to try to free them, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told officials and party leaders Wednesday.

PARIS, Oct 13 (AFP) - Two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq in August are still alive, and "indirect" negotiations have resumed to try to free them, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told officials and party leaders Wednesday.  

Reporters Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France International, kidnapped August 20 with their Syrian driver Mohammed al-Jundi, are "safe," according to information that Raffarin passed on, politicians who met with him said.  

"The prime minister told us the hostages are alive," said the parliamentary leader of the centre-right UDF party, Herve Morin.  

Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet cautioned that "there was no certainty" over the information and "all that is fragile".  

But she said "it seems that indirect contacts have resumed" with the hostage-takers.  

Concern over the fate of the reporters has mounted in France since the failure of an unofficial mission last month by an MP in the ruling UMP party to secure their liberation, and the grisly murder of a British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, in Iraq last week.  

The French foreign ministry said in the wake of the unofficial mission that contact had been lost with the group holding Malburnot and Chesnot.  

At a crisis meeting last week, Raffarin screened for senior lawmakers a video believed to have been recorded September 22 that showed the two reporters alive and apparently unhurt.  

But those images have not been broadcast, and no evidence about the fate of the two men has been made public.  

President Jacques Chirac, in a television interview from Beijing during a state visit to China, said public speculation was counterproductive.  

"It's not to hide any truth, but because experience has taught me that in these areas, one must be extremely cautious," he told the state network France 2.  

The two French reporters were kidnapped south of Baghdad and were believed to have been handed over to an insurgent group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.  

Malbrunot's employer, Le Figaro, speculated in a report last week that Syria might be involved in the journalists' detention. It said Damascus might have wanted to punish France for backing a UN resolution against Syria's interference in Lebanon.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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