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French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot released

(RSF/IFEX) - The release of French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who have been held hostage in Iraq since 20 August 2004, is "the biggest Christmas present we could have hoped for," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said on 21 December.

"Yesterday we were still pessimistic as Georges and Christian began their fifth month in captivity. Today our colleagues are free, and tomorrow they are going to be reunited with their families for the festive season. It's fantastic," Ménard said.

"Their release is proof that we should always remain mobilised. Everyone's efforts have paid off. We thank French diplomats and the news media, who have remained mobilised for four months," he added.

The Qatar-based television news station Al-Jazeera broke the news that the Islamic Army in Iraq had released Malbrunot and Chesnot. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Hervé Ladsous later confirmed their release and said they would be back in France on 22 December.

Malbrunot, 41, is a freelance journalist who works for "Le Figaro", "Ouest-France" and RTL. Chesnot, 38, freelances for RFI and Radio France. On 11 November, their Syrian guide and interpreter, Mohammed Al-Joundi, was freed by American marines during fighting with Sunni militants in Fallujah.

RSF invited journalists to an event in the square facing Paris City Hall on 22 December, at 11:00 a.m. (local time), where the two large portraits of Malbrunot and Chesnot that have been displayed on the City Hall's facade since early September were to be removed.

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