Tue, Aug 31, 2004 - Page 1 News List

France presses for release of hostages kidnapped in Iraq

AFP , CAIRO

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said that a top ministry official had been sent to Baghdad yesterday to press for the release of two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq.

Barnier made the announcement at a press conference in Egypt as he issued a solemn appeal for the release of the two men kidnapped by a group demanding the repeal of a French law that bans the Islamic headscarf in state schools.

However, France has vowed it will not bow to the kidnappers' demands, made late Saturday and accompanied by a 48-hour ultimatum, though without a specific death threat against journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.

Chesnot of Radio France and Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper disappeared in Iraq on Aug. 20, the day they were to have left Baghdad for the Shiite holy city of Najaf, then the scene of fierce fighting between US forces and Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

In Paris the foreign ministry said its outgoing secretary-general, Hubert Colin de Verdihre, just named ambassador to Algeria, had arrived in the Iraqi capital to boost the French embassy in the Iraqi capital.

Barnier said he would be accompanied by a number of other senior officials.

Barnier hinted that he would also visit other regional capitals but gave no details. He was due to have talks in Cairo with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Mussa.

"These two journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, are doing their job in Iraq to explain to the world, describe the reality of the situation and the difficult living conditions of the Iraqi people," Barnier said.

"These two men of goodwill have always shown their understanding for these people and their fondness for the Arab and Muslim world. I call for their release in the name of principles of humanity and respect for the human being which are at the very heart of the message of Islam and the religious practices of Muslims," Barnier said.

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