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Hostages tell of Afghan ordeal

Two journalists held hostage by the Taliban for 18 months in Afghanistan have arrived home in France to an emotional welcome.

Television reporter Herve Ghesquiere, 47, who had tears of joy in his eyes, described being confined indoors "23 and three-quarters hours a day" and repeatedly having his hopes raised of an imminent release - and then dashed.

Cameraman Stephane Taponier, 46, at his side, broke into a grin as he said: "We're doing really, really, really well."

Both looked quite pale but otherwise healthy, and were visibly moved by the huge crowd of journalists gathered at a military airbase outside Paris for the long-awaited homecoming.

Their plight was one of France's longest-ever hostage ordeals, and had become a national cause. President Nicolas Sarkozy, first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and France's defence and foreign ministers met the two men as they descended from a plane from Kabul.

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 but decided to take off to report on their own and were captured. They were freed on Wednesday 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, though the circumstances of the release remained unclear.

The journalists insisted that they had not been beaten or mistreated by their Taliban captors, just suffered "very very difficult" living conditions. They said they were separated after the first three months and spent the rest of the time isolated and confined.

The Taliban 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 it had submitted a list of prisoners to French authorities that it wanted freed in exchange for the journalists.


From Belfast Telegraph