French hostages in Iraq freed

21st December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 21 (AFP) - Two French journalists who had been held hostage in Iraq since August were freed Tuesday and would return to Paris on Wednesday, a French foreign ministry spokesman said.

PARIS, Dec 21 (AFP) - Two French journalists who had been held hostage in Iraq since August were freed Tuesday and would return to Paris on Wednesday, a French foreign ministry spokesman said.

"They have been freed. They have been handed over to French authorities. They will return (to Paris) Wednesday," the spokesman, Herve Ladsous, said.

A French air force 14-seater Falcon 900 was to leave early Wednesday from Villacoublay airbase in the Paris region to pick up two French hostages, concurring sources said.

The aircraft was to take off around 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and return to the same base "late in the afternoon" with Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper, the sources said.

The round-trip was expected to take around 10 hours, they added, without specifying the route.

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

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin yesterday confirmed "with joy" the release of the two, Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper.

The brother of one of the reporters, Thierry Chesnot, told AFP the two journalists had later arrived in the Jordanian capital Amman.

Minutes before the official French announcement, Al-Jazeera television reported the liberation of the pair, saying the insurgency group that had been holding them, the Islamic Army in Iraq, had released them because of France's stand against the US-led war on Iraq.

The Islamic Army said the pair had been freed "because they were proven not to spy for US forces, in response to appeals and demands from Islamic institutions and bodies, and in appreciation of the French government's stand on the Iraq issue and the two journalists' stand on the Palestinian cause," Al-Jazeera said, quoting from a statement from the group.

Chesnot, of Radio France Internationale and Le Figaro correspondent Malbrunot were seized on a road south of Baghdad on August 20.

Their Syrian driver Mohammad al-Jundi, who was captured with the journalists, was found in a house in Fallujah on November 12 after US troops launched an offensive to clear the city of rebels.

The Islamic Army in Iraq had called on Paris to scrap a controversial ban on wearing religious headscarves in state schools.

Hopes they would be released have been dashed several times, most notably when French lawmaker and self-appointed mediator Didier Julia announced during a September trip to Syria that their liberation was imminent.

Initial French diplomatic efforts to free the hostages failed, despite Paris's good relations in the Arab world and opposition to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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