Paris hunts French reporter missing in Iraq

10th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 10 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Monday that Paris was doing everything possible to find a newspaper journalist who went missing in Iraq along with her translator five days ago.

PARIS, Jan 10 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Monday that Paris was doing everything possible to find a newspaper journalist who went missing in Iraq along with her translator five days ago.

"We know about her courage. We are currently compiling all the information needed in order to bring about the happy ending we all want and are hoping for," Raffarin told reporters attending a New Year's reception.

Florence Aubenas, a senior correspondent for the left-leaning French daily Liberation, has not been seen or heard from since last Wednesday, when she left her Baghdad hotel with translator Hussein Hanun al-Saadi.

Late in the day, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said he still had no conclusive information about the reasons for the disappearance of the 43-year-old Aubenas.

"We still don't know for sure what the reasons are for this disappearance, and we're following up with all possible verifications and searches," Barnier told a press conference.

Earlier, France's ambassador to Iraq, Bernard Bajolet, said he had asked for the help of one of the main Iraqi Sunni organizations which had been instrumental in winning the release of two other French journalists last month.

Bajolet told reporters in Baghdad after talks with the head of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Hareth Al-Dari, that the group had assured him it would attempt to find Aubenas.

"I have hardly had the time to thank the Committee for its invaluable assistance in the release of the hostages Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot and I have come again to ask again for their help in freeing a French journalist," Bajolet said, referring to the two reporters who were held hostage by Iraqi insurgents for four months.

"They promised to do everything to find her."

Committee spokesman Omar Ragheb confirmed his group would try to help.

"We promised to do all we could to find her but we still do not know anything about the identity of the kidnappers. We will do everything we can," he said.

A group of masked gunmen in Iraq has claimed that a "female journalist and the person with her" are in good health, but did not specifically identify the journalist as Aubenas.

On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac warned journalists to stay out of Iraq, saying their safety could not be ensured - a concern echoed by Raffarin on Monday.

"My duty as prime minister is to warn of the extreme chaos of a country in which insecurity has created an extremely dangerous situation," he said.

Raffarin said he had asked Barnier to meet this week with top media executives to discuss working conditions in danger zones, and the necessary precautions to be taken.

The International Parliament of Writers, an association committed to the defence of writers under persecution, asked that Aubenas and Saadi be released immediately, saying they considered Aubenas as one of their own.

The statement published in Liberation was signed by three winners of the Nobel prize for literature: Austria's Elfriede Jelinek, Egypt's Naguib Mahfouz and Nigeria's Wole Soyinka.

A group of Arab journalists also appealed for Aubenas's release, calling her an "example of the independent journalist who dares to say what she sees, without any consideration for political or partisan interests".

The news of Aubenas's disappearance comes just three weeks after the release of Chesnot and Malbrunot.

Chesnot works for Radio France Itnernationale, which announced Monday that it would not be sending any correspondents to Iraq "until further notice".

© AFP

Subject: French News

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