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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 June, 2005, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Freed journalist back in France
Florence Aubenas embraces her mother, watched on by French President Jacques Chirac
Ms Aubenas was greeted by her mother and the French president
French journalist Florence Aubenas has arrived in France after five months of captivity in Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac was among those waiting to greet her. Ms Aubenas, 44, is said to be in good health.

Appearing relaxed and happy after landing at an airport near Paris, she said she was "feeling good".

The journalist was freed along with her interpreter, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. The two were seized on 5 January in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Mr Saadi has been reunited with his family in Baghdad.

'Severe conditions'

Ms Aubenas landed at Villacoublay military base just outside the French capital on Sunday evening on a small French air force jet.

As she emerged from the plane, she was greeted to applause and had an emotional reunion with her relatives.

Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi being reunited with his son and wife
Mr Saadi had an emotional reunion with his son and wife in Baghdad.

She thanked the French public and media for a massive campaign of solidarity, which she said had raised her spirits during her captivity.

However, the journalist said she had been held in "severe" conditions in a basement, with her hands and ankles bound and a blindfold over her almost all the time.

Her supporters have called on people to gather in central Paris to welcome her arrival.

Nightmare over

Little is publicly known of the identity of the kidnappers, who issued no ransom demands. It is assumed that they were acting under criminal rather than political motives, says Hugh Schofield in Paris.

French officials have said no ransom was paid for the release of the journalist and the interpreter.

More than 20 foreign hostages are still being held in Iraq. Many more Iraqis have also been kidnapped - several have been killed.

A hot air balloon carrying portraits of Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi guide Hussein Hanoun takes off in Courcelles-les-Montbeliard, south-eastern France.

Family members and colleagues of Ms Aubenas expressed relief at the news of her release, which happened on Saturday afternoon.

Her mother, Jacqueline Aubenas, said her daughter had sounded like herself during a brief telephone conversation.

"She was all there. It was her everyday voice... and I mean that in a very positive way. She did not sound different, exhausted, changed," she said.

"The two [ex-hostages] are free and in good health," said the managing editor of her newspaper, Liberation.

"We are completely swept away with joy at Liberation. It's a huge relief, after five months of nightmare," he said.

French President Jacques Chirac paid tribute to the services of his country engaged in securing the journalist's release "at the end of a long and painful captivity of 157 days, shared by all of France".

Huge support

Ms Aubenas is a senior correspondent who has covered many of the world's hot spots in more than 18 years with Liberation.

The journalist and her interpreter were abducted as they left their hotel.

Kidnapped French reporter Florence Aubenas in a video released 1 March 2005
Ms Aubenas appealed for help in videotapes

Rumours of a ransom payment have been firmly denied by the French foreign ministry.

In France, the plight of the journalist and her translator prompted a massive campaign of solidarity.

Their pictures are on display in public squares, newspapers carry daily messages of support and there have been scores of initiatives to keep their names to the fore.

Two other French reporters seized in Iraq last year, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, were released in December after four months in captivity.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Florence Aubenas' father reacts to news of her release




SEE ALSO:
French reporter missing in Iraq
06 Jan 05 |  Middle East
French journalists freed in Iraq
21 Dec 04 |  Middle East


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