Paris 'optimistic' for media duo missing in Iraq

6th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 5 (AFP) - France paid tribute on Saturday to a French journalist who has been missing in Iraq with her Iraqi translator for exactly one month, as the government insisted there was "still hope" for the pair.

PARIS, Feb 5 (AFP) - France paid tribute on Saturday to a French journalist who has been missing in Iraq with her Iraqi translator for exactly one month, as the government insisted there was "still hope" for the pair.

Florence Aubenas, a 43-year-old senior correspondent for the left-leaning newspaper Liberation and her Iraqi translator Hussein Hanun al-Saadi have not been seen or heard from since they left her Baghdad hotel on January 5.

In the eastern city of Strasbourg, giant photographs of Aubenas and al-Saadi were suspended in front of the City Hall, alongside the slogan "Free the hostages".

"(Press) freedom remains fragile and under threat in a great number of countries. Iraq has become the most terrible symbol of this, through the kidnapping and murder of journalists," city officials said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier voiced cautious optimism about their fate during a meeting with Liberation newspaper representatives on Friday.

"The most recent elements at our disposal allow us to stay hopeful," the minister was quoted as saying in the paper's Saturday edition.

"We are in a situation which is quite different to that of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot," two French journalists who were released by Iraqi insurgents on December 21 after four months in captivity, Barnier said.

"The circumstances, the reasons for their disappearance are not comparable," he added.

Liberation saw Barnier's comments, which echoed similar ones made by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin before parliament this week, as confirmation that the missing duo were still alive.

The most likely explanation, Liberation wrote, was that the pair had been kidnapped by a criminal gang seeking a ransom for their release - as opposed to an insurgent movement driven by ideological or political motives.

A female Italian journalist, veteran Middle East correspondent Giuliana Sgrena, 56, was kidnapped at gunpoint in Baghdad on Friday, with her purported Islamist abductors giving Rome 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Dozens of foreigners have been snatched by insurgents and a number murdered since a spate of hostage-taking erupted in Iraq last April.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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