'Reckless' French MP deniesendangering hostages' lives

4th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - A French MP behind a failed bid to free two French reporters held hostage in Iraq defended his freelance operation Monday amid sharp official and media criticism that he may have endangered their lives.

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - A French MP behind a failed bid to free two French reporters held hostage in Iraq defended his freelance operation Monday amid sharp official and media criticism that he may have endangered their lives.  

Didier Julia, a 70-year-old member of President Jacques Chirac's ruling UMP party, admitted before leaving the Syrian capital of Damascus for Paris that he had lost contact with the Islamic group holding reporters Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France International and he was now worried about their fate.  

But he defiantly rejected the accusations prompted by his mission.  

"I have done absolutely nothing wrong, nothing obstructive nor dangerous," he told a French radio station.  

"At no moment could it be thought that because of me the life of the hostages would have been put in danger," he said, adding that his efforts had not run up against any rival operation by the French government.  

Julia earned the reprobation of France last Friday, when he declared there was a convoy carrying the journalists out of Iraq - along with his associate, a former French navy commando named Philippe Brett who he said had arranged their release - but it failed to materialise.  

An examination of Julia's assertions revealed inconsistencies that threw into doubt the authenticity of the whole purported operation, while raising questions about the extent the MP might have collaborated with officials from France or other countries.  

On the weekend, Chirac slammed Julia's "interference" while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said such private initiatives could create "a threat for our fellow countrymen".   But the spokesman of the opposition Socialist party, Julien Dray, said Monday that Julia had probably "not acted as a lone gunslinger".  

He said he did want to see Julia become a "scapegoat" for the government, which had not produced any results since Malbrunot, Chesnot and the Syrian driver, Mohammed al-Jundi, were abducted south of Baghdad on August 20.  

The three men are believed to be in the hands of an insurgent group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq.  

Le Figaro, Malbrunot's employer, was scathing of what it called Julia's "dangerous fiasco" and labelled the MP "uncontrollable".  

Reports also highlighted the suspected involvement of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, whose plane was used to transport Julia and other figures to the Middle East to participate in the unofficial liberation efforts.  

Julia confirmed the use of the aircraft, telling Europe 1 radio: "I needed a fast plane. He (Gbagbo) gave it to me right away."  

Chesnot and Malbrunot's families issued a statement Monday calling for an end to the finger-pointing and appealing for a concerted national effort to secure the journalists' release.  

The families asked "all of France's representative figures to not get into debates that could undermine the national consensus and, at the same time, have consequences on the liberation of Christian and Georges."  

They called on "the responsibility and discretion of everybody so that negotiations resume in the necessary calm."  

A crisis meeting of government ministers was due to take place at Raffarin's offices later Monday.  

The opposition has indicated it intended to grill Raffarin on the subject in parliament on Tuesday.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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