French journalist hostages in Afghanistan freed: Sarkozy

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Two French journalists kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2009 have been released, the French presidency said on Wednesday.

"The president is delighted at the liberation of our two compatriots, Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere, as well as their interpreter Reza Din," a statement from Nicolas Sarkozy's office said.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon meanwhile told parliament that the two "are in good health and will be on French soil in a few hours."

Cameraman Taponier and reporter Ghesquiere, working for France 3 public television, were seized with Din and two other Afghan colleagues in December 2009 in the mountainous and unstable Kapisa province, east of Kabul.

The abduction was claimed by the Taliban, the hardline Islamists who ruled Afghanistan until a US-led invasion in 2003 and are now in revolt against the Kabul government. The guerrillas accused the journalists of spying.

Their release brought relief to French media colleagues who had waged a public awareness campaign throughout their detention to make sure they were not forgotten.

"The head of state joins in the joy of their families. He thanks (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai for his handling of this crisis as well as all those who took part in freeing the hostages," the statement said.

Sarkozy "reaffirms his support of the Afghan people and the Afghan authorities," it added.

France has nearly 4,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led international force fighting against the Taliban.

Sarkozy announced Friday that "several hundred" French troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of 2011, in line with a similar pullback announced by the United States.

The late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said in an audio tape released in January that the journalists' release would depend on a pullout of France's soldiers from Afghanistan and warned Paris of a "high price" for its policies.

Bin Laden was killed in a US commando raid in Pakistan last month.

© 2011 AFP

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