AFP chief appeals to Kadhafi to free journalists

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The head of Agence France-Presse appealed to Moamer Kadhafi on Tuesday to free three journalists, including two AFP employees, held by forces loyal to the Libyan leader.

"I have the honour to ask you to restore their liberty, in the name of that same freedom of expression and information that you refer to so often," AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog wrote in a letter to Kadhafi.

A driver hired by Dave Clark and Roberto Schmidt, who went missing in eastern Libya last week, said they were arrested on Saturday along with Getty photographer Joe Raedle.

Clark, a reporter, and photographer Schmidt had not been heard from since Friday evening.

"We are certain that you will hear this message regarding these three colleagues, two of whom work for one of the largest global news agencies, whose reputation for quality and independence, notably in the Arab world, is unquestionable," Hoog wrote.

Also on Tuesday, Hoog and AFP director of information Philippe Massonnet met French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Culture and Communication Minister Frederic Mitterrand, to raise the issue of the journalists' detention.

Mitterrand assured AFP of his support, saying in a communique afterwards: "All imaginable procedures to come to their aid and to allow them to do their job ... are under way."

The minister said he "implores the Libyan authorities to respect all guarantees attached to the exercise of their profession."

Driver Mohammed Hamed told AFP that on Saturday morning he took Briton Clark, Schmidt, who is of joint Colombian and German nationality, and American Raedle from Tobruk towards Ajdabiya, where Kadhafi loyalists have been battling eastern rebels.

A few dozen kilometres (miles) from Ajdabiya they encountered a convoy of military jeeps and transport vehicles. They turned around, but were intercepted by the soldiers who caught up with them and forcibly detained them, the driver said.

Four soldiers forced them from their vehicle at gunpoint as Clark said "Sahafa, sahafa," Arabic for journalist.

They were then ordered to kneel on the side of the road with their hands on their heads before being bundled into another vehicle and driven off to an unknown destination.

Paris-based Clark, 38, has been in Libya since March 8. Schmidt, 45, who normally works out of AFP's Nairobi bureau, arrived in the country on February 28.

Raedle is 45 years old.

Since the February 15 start of the insurrection against Kadhafi's regime, a number of foreign journalists have been arrested in Libya.

Four New York Times reporters, who were detained last week during the fighting between government and rebel forces, left the country safely on Monday after Turkey helped to secure their release, the newspaper said.

On Saturday, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television said four of its journalists, including a Norwegian and a Briton, are being held in Tripoli after being arrested in Libya's west.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed on March 12 in an ambush near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi -- the first reported death of a journalist working for foreign media in Libya since the start of the uprising.

Mohammed al-Nabbous, 28, who founded a Libyan online news channel, was shot dead by snipers on Saturday while Benghazi was under attack from Kadhafi's forces.

© 2011 AFP

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