Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, the representative of AMS abroad, said on Friday, "We are under the impression that the American forces do not want the hostages to be freed, because each time we get near a solution, these forces push for a military escalation."

"We believe these forces have political aims, seeking to create a chaotic situation which does not contribute to progress," al-Kubaisi told AFP while on a visit to Qatar on Friday.

The release of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were seized with their Syrian driver, Muhammad al-Jundi, "needs a secure atmosphere, which has not been the case since we had the first positive signs for their release".

Badly timed

Al-Kubaisi referred to US bombardment earlier this month of the Latifiya region, "once they learnt that the two French hostages were there", souring the atmosphere and "blocking the path to a settlement that was under way".

It  is nearly a month since the
two Frenchmen went missing

Radio France Internationale correspondent Chesnot and Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot were snatched in Latifiya, south of Baghdad, by the Islamic Army in Iraq, which has claimed the murder of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni.

"I was there (in Latifiya) and I saw the situation. Residents saw (internationally) banned bombs falling on the heads of their children," said al-Kubaisi.

"Nobody can respond to our calls when the US forces are holding entire towns hostage and do not want to halt their bombardment," said al-Kubaisi, who added that he was unsure of the journalists' current whereabouts.

Quid pro quo

The AMS official urged France to press for the release of thousands of Iraqi men and women held by US and Iraqi authorities.

"That would have a positive impact on the kidnappers and make them feel they (the Iraqis) have not been abandoned or that the whole world is only interested in the foreign hostages," he said.

France's Defence Minister Michele Alliot Marie said on Thursday she had information which led her to believe that the French hostages held for nearly a month were still alive.

"We have had information which allow us to think that, without having concrete proof, that our hostages are alive, in good health and safe," she told the daily Le Parisien.