2 French journalists in Afghanistan freed
Updated: 2011-06-30 17:25
VILLACOUBLAY, France - Two journalists held hostage for 18 months in Afghanistan came home to France on Thursday to a presidential welcome and nationwide relief.
Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere arrived at a military airbase in Villacoublay outside Paris from Kabul, greeted by President Nicolas Sarkozy, first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and France's defense and foreign ministers.
Smiling and firmly shaking hands with the crowd that met them at the airport, the two appeared in good health for the long-awaited homecoming.
The two journalists and three Afghan associates were kidnapped in December 2009 while working for France-3 television 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 to report on their own and were captured.
Their plight prompted a nationwide campaign in France for their release, with banners bearing their photos in city halls around the country _ banners taken down in joy after their release.
They were freed Wednesday along with their Afghan translator, Reza Din. The two others were freed earlier.
French officials insisted that no ransom was paid for the men's freedom. The circumstances of the release remained unclear.
The Taliban said the insurgency movement was holding them and made a set of demands in exchange for the men's freedom. 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 journalists.
Last week, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said 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.
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.
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