Group says missing French reporter in 'good health'

9th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

BALAD, Iraq, Jan 8 (AFP) - A group of armed and masked men in Iraq has claimed that a "female journalist and her companion" were in "good health", but did not say whether the woman was missing French reporter Florence Aubenas.

BALAD, Iraq, Jan 8 (AFP) - A group of armed and masked men in Iraq has claimed that a "female journalist and her companion" were in "good health", but did not say whether the woman was missing French reporter Florence Aubenas.

The disclosure came on Friday night, when a group of reporters including an AFP correspondent were on their way from Samarra to Balad, north of Baghdad, to look into the kidnapping of two Iraqi soldiers.

The AFP reporter said they were stopped at the entrance to Balad by armed men in a car demanding to know what they were doing in the area.

"When they found out we were journalists, they told us the 'female journalist and the person with her are in good health'," the AFP correspondent said.

They did not identify the journalist in question, nor did they say whether they had seen her, give her whereabouts or any other details about her circumstances.

"They told us to go back where we came from, and they drove away in an easterly direction towards Balad," the correspondent added.

There has been no confirmed sighting of Aubenas, 43, a senior correspondent for the French daily Liberation, since she left her Baghdad hotel on Wednesday with her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanun al-Saadi.

Both Liberation and the French authorities have said they were worried about her safety and on Friday French President Jacques Chirac warned journalists to stay out of Iraq saying their safety "cannot be ensured."

Liberation's chief news editor Antoine de Gaudemar gave a cautious welcome to the report from Balad.

"It is always a relief and an encouragement to have news, but the reports are still imprecise and incomplete," he told AFP.

"We must wait, carry on," he said. "But at least we know something."

France's foreign ministry refused to comment on the report.

Spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said, "We are fully mobilised, as we have been since Thursday, to find Florence Aubenas and her companion Hussein Hanun al-Saadi."

Liberation Saturday printed a tribute from its publishing director Serge July to Aubenas, saying she "incarnates in many respects the values and qualities of our newspaper."

Without Saadi, "our coverage of events would not be what it is," he added.

"We are all awaiting the reappearance of Florence and Hussein, with bated breath and beating hearts," July said.

The new drama followed the four-month captivity of French reporters Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, who were released by insurgents in Iraq on December 21.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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