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France

Grim milestone for French journalists held by Taliban

Text by Thibault Worth

Latest update : 2010-12-29

Journalists Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière have been hostages in Afghanistan for 365 days as of Wednesday. The French government is negotiating their release but has refused to commit to a timetable. (Photo: Reporters Without Borders)

On December 30, 2009, Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière were driving unescorted in the mountainous Afghan province of Kapisa (60 km from Kabul) when they were kidnapped by Taliban militants. Both were on assignment for French national TV channel France 3.

On Wednesday, the journalists reach a grim milestone: a year held hostage. Nothing is known of their three Afghan guides – Mohamed Reza, Ghulam and Satar – who were kidnapped at the same time.

  • Stéphane Taponier. Cameraman, 46, who has covered the Iraq war and several conflicts on the African continent. He has been travelling to Afghanistan regularly since 2000.
  • Hervé Ghesquière. Journalist, 47, for the France 3 newsmagazine "Exhibits".  He has covered conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq as well as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

The Taliban are holding on to Taponier and Ghesquière in the hope of negotiating a release of prisoners detained in Afghan or US prisons. 

But it is civil society groups and journalists unions who have publically conveyed the urgency of their plight.

On Wednesday morning, Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom advocacy group, projected the faces of the pair onto the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

"We wish to remind the French authorities that their promises of an imminent release are no longer enough,” said a spokesperson for the group. “We call on President Nicolas Sarkozy to make the rescue of the two journalists a national priority.”

Other events are being organized throughout France Wednesday to demonstrate solidarity and support.

On a visit to Afghanistan by French Defense Minister Alain Juppé on December 26, Afghan Pesident Hamid Karzai offered his full support in seeking the release of the hostages.

"Things are going in the right direction," said Juppé during the trip. "We continue to work as actively as we can."

Taponier's parents told AFP they were hearted by Juppé's visit, but have generally been frustrated by the government's handling of the situation.

A senior French military official suggested in September that the two reporters could be rescued by Christmas.

In an interview Tuesday, Gérard Taponier said he and his wife were tired of hearing upbeat projections from French government ministers that failed to materialize.

"When (Foreign Minister) Michele Alliot-Marie speaks of a 'short time', we tell ourselves it's imminent,” said Gérard Taponier. “And then Christmas is already gone... We are still hoping for good news, but it gets you down.”

Earlier this week, an adviser to the French president released a recent proof-of-life video showing the pair emaciated, but alive and well. 

But this is at least the third such video released this year.

"The kidnappers have an interest in prolonging the captivity of the hostages," correspondent Nicolas Brulliard told FRANCE 24 from Kabul. "It acts as a sort of protection against French military intervention in Kapisa Province."

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders and French journalist unions have tried to keep the flame alive, holding regular demonstrations and launching solidarity websites such as "Libérez-les!" (Free them!).

Large portraits of the men have been draped off buildings in France, most notably in their hometowns, Bordeaux and Nantes. 

Since their abduction, photos of the pair, often captioned by their day count in captivity, have appeared regularly on television news broadcasts and websites .

Today, that count reached “365”.

Date created : 2010-12-29

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