Released French hostage believes ransom was paid

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A French journalist who was freed on Thursday after 18 months in captivity in Afghanistan believes that an exchange deal involving money and prisoners secured his release from Taliban Islamists.

"I don't have any proof," television reporter Herve Ghesquiere told the BBC World Service. "Officially, there was no ransom. But of course, it was not for chocolates."

The French and Afghan governments both deny that a ransom was paid for the release of Ghesquiere and cameraman Stephane Taponier.

However, in Afghanistan the Taliban said in a statement it had freed the men after France agreed to let jailed Taliban commanders out of jail.

"France was made to accept the conditions of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) and agreed the release of a number of mujahedeen commanders in exchange for the release of the journalists," it said.

Ghesquiere said it "was clear in the beginning" that their Taliban captors wanted to exchange them.

"The negotiations were very long," he said. "You have many Taliban commanders, many different small power brokers in the region.

"It was very difficult for the French secret services to negotiate. I am sure, because we are alive... that they did great, great work, but it was very, very long," he added.

The two Frenchmen had become the longest-held Western hostages in the war-ravaged nation after they were captured while covering the conflict on December 30, 2009.

© 2011 AFP

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