Paris fears long waitpossible for hostages

13th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 13 (AFP) - France on Monday pursued its campaign to secure the release of two journalists held hostage in Iraq for more than three weeks, hoping for a quick resolution but also preparing for the long haul.

PARIS, Sept 13 (AFP) - France on Monday pursued its campaign to secure the release of two journalists held hostage in Iraq for more than three weeks, hoping for a quick resolution but also preparing for the long haul.  

At the weekend, the foreign ministry recalled a special envoy sent to Baghdad last month to lead diplomatic efforts on the ground, but insisted Monday that its strategy had not changed.  

"Three weeks after the abduction of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, the foreign ministry's teams remain mobilized in order to achieve the release of the two French journalists," said ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous.  

But the recall of the top diplomat, Hubert Colin de Verdiere - who is due to take up his post as France's ambassador to Algeria - showed that Paris was preparing for what could be a drawn-out hostage situation.  

"No one is saying it, but it's true that such a scenario has not been ruled out," a French diplomat who asked not to be named told AFP.  

"Unfortunately, we have no information that allows us to predict how long the crisis will last, one way or the other," the diplomat added.  

Chesnot, who works for Radio France, Malbrunot, a correspondent for Le Figaro newspaper, and their Syrian driver were kidnapped on August 20 by a shadowy group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.  

The hostage-takers initially demanded that Paris rescind its ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, but the law went into effect on September 2 as planned.  

After an unprecedented wave of condemnations from the Arab and Muslim worlds, the group seemed set to release the men but for the last week there has been no news.  

On Monday, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin told Europe 1 radio that information obtained by Paris about the two journalists seemed to indicate that they were alive.  

The minister said the situation had become extremely complicated due to increased fighting in and around Baghdad, noting that mortar rounds had hit the French embassy in the Iraqi capital on Sunday.  

Italy renewed its efforts to save the lives of two Italian aid workers kidnapped last week and threatened with execution in Iraq, sending Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to the Middle East.  

In Iraq, a group calling itself the Islamic Secret Army said it had kidnapped two Australians and two East Asians. The statement could not be immediately authenticated.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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