France marks anniversary of reporters' Afghanistan abduction

29th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The faces of two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan were projected onto the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Wednesday as media rights campaigners marked the first anniversary of their abduction.

"Free Stephane and Herve and their three colleagues," read the slogan on the Paris landmark beneath the faces of the camerman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere.

The journalists, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues a year ago in an area northeast of Kabul rife with anti-government insurgents.

Their photos were printed Wednesday on the front pages of French national newspapers and their plight was the lead story in many television and radio news broadcasts here.

Their faces were also due to be projected later Wednesday onto the front of the Paris city hall building, and Paris and other French cities were to host gatherings to mark the anniversary.

The eye-catching stunt at the Arc de Triomphe was organised by Paris-based media rights campaigners Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"By projecting their faces on to the Arc de Triomphe, we want to remind the French authorities that the promises of a forthcoming release are not enough," it said.

"President Nicolas Sarkozy must make their fate a national priority."

Afghan criminal groups and Islamist rebels have kidnapped several dozen foreigners, many of them journalists, since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul, sparking the current insurgency.

Last week France 3 television revealed that a new video the kidnappers made in mid-November of their two French hostages had been released to the French authorities.

The parents of Taponier were shown the video on Tuesday at the French foreign ministry and said afterwards the two hostages looked thin but were in good shape.

Taponier's parents this week spoke to the media for the first time since their son was kidnapped and expressed frustration at the lack of progress in freeing him.

The couple said they were tired of hearing upbeat statements from French government ministers that failed to come to anything.

"When (Foreign Minister) Michele Alliot-Marie speaks of a 'short time', we say to ourselves it's imminent. And then Christmas is already gone... We are still hoping for good news, but it gets you down," said Gerard Taponier.

Arlette Taponier complained that the French government had not kept them informed of developments. When they were received at the foreign ministry, she said, it was all "very vague".

"From the start they have been saying that they are alive and in good health. For the rest, it's all a 'military secret'," she added.

"When Bernard Kouchner (then foreign minister) went to Kabul, he didn't even telephone us when he got back. We knew nothing, which is a bit off."

That was in November. But the couple were encouraged by a visit to Afghanistan this month by newly appointed Defence Minister Alain Juppe, she added.

During that visit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised France his full support in efforts to free the hostages.

© 2010 AFP

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