French press US to see Syrian driver of hostages
PARIS, Nov 16 (AFP) - France has asked the United States to give it access "as soon as possible" to the freed Syrian driver of two French reporters being held hostage in Iraq, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Tuesday.
His comments on Europe 1 radio came amid reports that French diplomats have still been unable to see Mohammed al-Jundi, who was found by US forces in their offensive in the restive city of Fallujah at the end of last week.
French authorities believe Jundi may be able to provide new clues about the fate of Christian Chesnot, 37, of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot, 41, of Le Figaro, kidnapped with him on August 20.
It is thought, however, that they were separated at least a month ago.
“We immediately asked the United States for access,” Barnier said. “We are waiting impatiently for that to happen. We expect to be able to meet him and I hope it will happen as soon as possible.”
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Sunday that the two journalists were thought to be in a “fairly safe” zone in Iraq, based on information from Jundi.
“The recent discovery of the hiding place in which their Syrian driver had been locked up and the fact that the driver is alive” and that he has been able to “provide (the French authorities) with information, make it possible for us to think that the hostages are in a fairly safe geographical area,” he said.
He added that these factors “give us some confidence back.”
The journalists and their driver were abducted by a group south of Baghdad calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, believed to be mainly based in Fallujah.
Subject: French News