French journalists freed in Afghanistan

President Sarkozy announces that two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan for 18 months have been released.

    Two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan for a year and a half have been freed, Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, has announced.

    Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, both of whom worked for France 3 television, their Afghan interpreter, and two other Afghan colleagues were taken hostage on December 30, 2009.

    The television journalists were kidnapped while working on a story about the reconstruction of a road east of Kabul, the capital.

    The Taliban claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying that they were holding the journalists.

    The group made a set of demands they wanted fulfilled in exchange for the men's freedom.

    Osama bin Laden, the late al-Qaeda leader, 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.

    On June 23, following a US announcement of its troop withdrawal, Sarkozy said that the 4,000 French troops in the country would also be pulling out of Afghanistan "in a proportional manner and in a calendar comparable to the withdrawal of American reinforcements".

    'Wind of freedom'

    "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," Sarkozy said in a statement on Wednesday.

    After France 3 reported that they had been freed, Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament that the two journalists were in good health and would be back in France in a matter of hours.

    "The wind of freedom that has blown, that is blowing, on the Arab world also needs to be taken into account by the [other] hostage takers, who need to realise that this is not the right way to meet their objectives," he said.

    "They must free these men and women and join the democratic debate."

    Sarkozy called Beatrice Coulon, Herve Ghesquiere's girlfriend, to tell her that he had been freed while she was attending a rally for the 18-month anniversary of his capture, the head of Reporters Without Borders told the Reuters news agency.

    "It's the moment that I have been waiting for for so long. It's marvellous," Coulon told France 3.

    Thierry Taponier, brother of Stephane, told the same channel that he had not had any contact with his brother but expected to see him at a military airport near Paris early on Thursday.

    Ghesquiere and Taponier's captivity was the longest for any French hostage since the Lebanese hostage crisis in the 1980s.

    The last proof of life received was a video released in November 2010.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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