Somali hostages arrive back in Paris

15th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

The crew were received warmly by officials, their friends and families upon touching down on Monday evening.

15 April 2008

PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed back the crew of a French yacht held hostage for a week by Somali pirates, as Paris prosecutors open an inquiry into the affair.

Le Ponant's 30 crew - 22 French, six Filipinos, a Cameroonian and a Ukrainian - were freed on Friday following negotiations that ended the standoff peacefully.

The former hostages were transferred in French helicopters to Djibouti, where France has its largest overseas military base, an AFP correspondent reported.

They were briefly greeted by Djiboutian officials and Dominique Decherf, the French ambassador to Djibouti, before boarding a plane that touched down in Paris' Orly airport at 7:35 pm.

Sarkozy, defence minister Herve Morin and army chief of staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin were among the dignitaries waiting at the foot of the steps leading off the Airbus A 310 to welcome them.

The group broke off for emotional reunions with friends and families before walking the red carpet to join Sarkozy in the airport's VIP area to general applause.

"We were completely cut off from the rest of the world," the yacht's captain, Patrick Marchesseau, told waiting reporters.

"We didn't know that our families had been received at the Elysee (Palace, the president's official residence)."

Having thanked all those who had worked to free them, Marchesseau made an appeal on behalf of Ingrid Betancourt, the Franco-Colombian politician held by Marxist guerrillas in Colombia since 2002.

He said all the crew had thought about Betancourt during their time as hostages. But their captors had offered them no violence, either physical or verbal, he added.

"They are in great form," said Rear Admiral Marin Gillier, head of the marine commandos who led the rescue operation.

One senior military source told AFP: "The whole programme was arranged for the hostages to arrive in Paris at 8:00 pm for the television news."

On Friday, French commandos captured six of the suspected pirates as they tried to escape in a 4x4 vehicle, shortly after the men holding the crew had released their hostages and gone ashore.

Somali officials and witnesses said three people were killed during the French operation, but the military in Paris denied any pirates were killed.

But the fate of the six suspects captured by French forces was not yet clear.

Late Monday, the Paris prosecutor's office announced it had opened a preliminary investigation into hijacking and kidnapping over the capture of Le Ponant and the detention of its crew off the Somali coast.

The French foreign ministry has already said it would like to see those captured brought to France for trial.

"We are not yet sure of Somalia's agreement," said French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.

Somali president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who was travelling abroad, had told the French authorities that he would give his answer after he had taken advice on the matter. The two countries have no extradition treaty.

[AFP / Expatica]

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