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France

Presidency denies report that ex-hostage Camatte is a spy

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-02-26

The French presidency has said that Pierre Camatte, the French hostage released on Tuesday in an apparent prisoner swap with al Qaeda's North African branch, is not a spy, after a disclosed government report suggested the contrary.

Ex-hostage Pierre Camatte is not an agent of French intelligence services, the French presidency has told the Associated Press.

The statement from the Elysée comes after a disclosed transcript of an official defence commission report led French media to speculate on Camatte’s true occupation and activities in Mali prior to his capture by al Qaeda’s North African wing.

Camatte’s release on Tuesday, in an apparent prisoner swap with al Qaeda militants, has made headlines in France. The affair had not died down on Friday, when online media bakchich.info and lemonde.fr published stories suggesting that Paris had revealed Camatte to be an agent of the DGSE, France’s international intelligence services.

During Camatte’s three-month ordeal at the hands of Islamic militants, he was described as a 61-year-old aid worker, kidnapped from a hotel by Malians who passed him on to the al Qaeda group.

The “revelatory” articles are based on the transcript of a verbal report to a defence commission of the French National Assembly on Jan. 10 by Bernard Bajolet, coordinator of intelligence services for President Nicolas Sarkozy. During a question and answer session, Bajolet seems to name Pierre Camatte as one of eight French agents being held hostage abroad.

In response to an inquiry from French parliamentarian Guillaume Garot into what information could be shared about the number and status of French intelligence agents being held hostage abroad, Bajolet answers:

“We currently have eight hostages. One in Mali, Pierre Camatte, four in Sudan, one in Somalia and two in Afghanistan.”

The online reports muse if Bajolet’s answer is a scintillating slip-up about Camatte’s identity, or an accurate answer to the question Bajolet thought he was replying to: “How many French citizens are currently being held hostage?”

In statements to the press in December, Paris confirmed the existence of seven French hostages around the world. They included Camatte in Mali, three humanitarian aid workers in Sudan, one DGSE agent in Somalia, and two other people whose names or location were not made public.

One of the captive aid workers in Sudan, Laurent Maurice, was released on Feb. 7, ten days after Bajolet’s possible intelligence blunder at the National Assembly.

However, the Elysée told AP news agency on Thursday that “eight” was the number of French citizens, and “not the number of DGSE hostages around the world.” The presidency attributed the mistake to a poor transcription of the commission or an honest misunderstanding by Bajolet.

Date created : 2010-02-26

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