French delegation claims Iraqhostages now ‘in safe hands’
DAMASCUS, Sept 30 (AFP) - Aides to a French MP said Thursday that two French journalists held hostage by Iraqi Islamists were in "safe hands" but that their release depended on the security situation around the rebel-held town of Fallujah.
“They have been in safe hands, those of the “resistance”, for about two weeks and their liberation is assured, but their exit is being blocked by the American bombardment in the Fallujah area,” said Philippe Evano, a member of a French team in Damascus led by MP Didier Julia.
Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were seized on August 20 by a group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, which was initially demanding that France revoke a controversial ban on Islamic headscarves in public schools.
The French foreign ministry has denied any knowledge of a deal to free the hostages, saying it was maintaining “total discretion” on the issue.
“We are trying to ensure safe passage for the mediator who is to go and bring the journalists out to Baghdad before they leave Iraq for France,” Evano said.
Self-styled French “mediator” Philippe Brett told AFP in Baghdad Wednesday he had seen the two journalists and secured an agreement with their abductors for their release.
“We have asked President Jacques Chirac to contact the Americans and obtain clearance for an air corridor. If we get a green light, the release will be immediate,” said Brett, who is in Iraq.
US forces in Iraq have launched almost daily air raids on Fallujah, which they say are aimed at Islamist extremist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq for a string of deadly attacks and the kidnapping of foreign hostages.
Subject: French News