French journalists in Afghanistan freed

2011-06-29 22:29

Paris - Two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan since December 2009 were freed on Wednesday in good health, bringing cheers and joyful tears in France which has been united in its campaign to bring the two men home.

Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere, in captivity for nearly 550 days, were freed along with the journalists' translator, Reza Din, authorities said.

Two other Afghans held with them were freed earlier, but nothing was said in order to keep negotiations on track, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

The newly freed journalists were to due to in France on Thursday at Vilacoublay military airport outside Paris at 08:00 (06:00 GMT).

Champagne corks popped at France-3, the TV channel where the two Frenchmen worked, and banners hung in a campaign to get them home were being taken down.

"We are happy.... It's a great moment to see their families explode with joy," France-3 executive editor Thierry Thuillier said.

Ghesquiere, 47, and Taponier, 46, were kidnapped together with three Afghan associates while working on a story about reconstruction on a road east of Kabul. They had been embedded with French troops in Afghanistan, but decided to take off for reporting on their own and were captured.

The Taliban said the insurgency movement was holding them and made a set of demands - never fully published - in exchange for the men's freedom.

Hostage ordeal

French officials quickly moved to quash questions about whether a ransom was paid for the men's freedom. Juppe said "France does not pay ransom." Still, speculation was widespread that the captors were compensated.

President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked "everyone who participated in freeing the hostages" and praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for his management of the hostage situation, without providing further details.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon thanked "these men and women who worked for this liberation, often from the shadows, taking lots of risks".

The head of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, who was in Afghanistan days ago, said on BFM-TV that Karzai freed some prisoners to partially fulfill a Taliban demand. The media watchdog group had been in constant communication with French authorities during the hostage situation.

Fillon said the two men were in good health and would be returning shortly to their homeland after one of France's longest hostage ordeals.

"For the past several hours our two French hostages in Afghanistan are in the hands of French forces at the Tagab base," the prime minister told legislators. "Our two hostages are in good health and will be on French soil in several hours."

Responding to reporters' questions about why it took 18 months to release the journalists, Juppe said the operation was especially complex. "We were facing an organisation, rather an extremely complex disorganisation, with numerous officials to be identified. We had to untangle the strings, get green lights which came from different circuits."

That the captives were held in a combat zone where French troops are operating around the Kapisa Valley made the task still more delicate, he told reporters.

Troop withdrawals

Ghesquiere and cameraman Taponier are seasoned journalists. Ghesquiere specialized in war reporting, covering the Balkans conflict and doing investigative reports from around the globe, from Cambodia to the disputed Western Sahara territory. Taponier had filmed in the past in Afghanistan, notably a 2000 report on the northern commander Massoud, who was later killed.

Exactly a week ago, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said on French TV that the announcements of staggered French and American troop withdrawals might help the cause of freeing Ghesquiere and Taponier. President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 33 000 troops by September 2012, and France followed suit, announcing it will pull out a quarter of its force of 4 000.

A Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, had accused France on January 1 of "doing nothing" to free the men. In April 2010, after posting a video of the hostages on the internet, the Taliban said they had submitted a list of prisoners to French authorities that they wanted freed in exchange for the hostages.

With news the journalists were freed, France-3 immediately put up a thumbnail image on the upper left corner of the screen showing the two journalists' faces, with the word "FREE" in big white letters.

"We've lived for a year and a half with this weight... and this weight has disappeared," said the President of France Television, Remy Pflimlin.

The announcement came amid an outdoor gathering of a support group headed by Florence Aubenas, a journalist who was held hostage in Iraq for 157 days and freed in 2005.

A telephone call broke the news.

"There are magic moments like that. We all fell into each others' arms," Aubenas said on France-3. "It was a moment of incredible emotion."

With a vibrant campaign launched in France on behalf of the hostages, the men's faces are familiar to many here.

The channels of France-3's umbrella group, France Televisions, have long been closing their newscasts with photos of the French journalists and a tally of the days they have been held. Paris City Hall has held rallies with giant posters of Ghesquiere and Taponier and towns have put up banners with their photos.

Supporters even hoisted a banner on the top of Mont Blanc in the Alps.

Eight other French citizens remain captive: four thought to be held in Mali, one in Somalia and three aid workers captured in May in Yemen.

- SAPA
Read more on:    afghanistan  |  france
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!
Christmas lingerie to make this festive season the best one ever!
13 things you might not know about Disneyland

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

The energy today is serious, materialistic and hardworking. You may find you get a new outlook on things and you may want to spend...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.