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It was to be a triumph of French diplomacy

Posted by Helen Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The return of the two French journalists, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, at the end of last year was supposed to be a great triumph for French diplomacy. But not everything is quite what it seems, particularly in French politics.

In the first place, the kidnapping and prolonged imprisonment of the French journalists, despite daily pleas from various luvvies and bien pensants on the TV and in the press, undermined somewhat the French view of themselves as people who have a special role in the Middle East and a special relationship with all the various governments and organizations, “be they ne’er so vile”.

As we have pointed out before, playing the anti-American card may well go down well in Cannes, in the columns of the Guardian and, as Mark Steyn writes, the letters column of the Daily Telegraph. It is worth zip among Iraqi and other Islamic extremists and terrorists.

Georges Malbrunot has described his and his colleague’s ordeal in a long article in Le Figaro. In it he has had to admit that announcements that they were French journalists and, therefore, opponents of American policy, did not prove to be as helpful with their kidnappers, the so-called Islamic Army in Iraq, as they had hoped. The captors were waging a war against the West and against Christianity. As far as they were concerned, France was part of that.

The International Herald Tribune quotes Malbrunot in an article today:

“For them [Malbrunot’s and Chesnot’s captors} France is the West; it’s a global vision – it’s the infidel West against the Muslim world.”
Oh dear. And there were all these French journalists thinking that the war against terror was simply the outcome of American hysteria. To be fair, the Islamic Army in Iraq also produced words of hatred for other Arabs, explaining that their aim was
“to overthrow all the Arab rulers, and to return to the caliphate [Islamic rule]from Andalusia [Spain] to the border with China”.
M Malbrunot seems to have been rather shocked by his experience, and not just because of the brutality of his captors and the general hardship he and his colleagues had experienced. In fact, at one point they found themselves wishing that an American patrol would appear out of nowhere and rescue them as they were being transported from one extremely unpleasant prison to another. But then, they came to their senses. They realized that such a development would be dangerous for them.

This article could not have gone down very well in France, given that there have already been urgent questions as to why it had taken so long to get the journalists home and why all the efforts made by politicians and diplomats in the area had not been more effective. After all, in the first place, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier had boasted that the situation would be resolved very quickly because of France’s special position and overwhelmingly friendly relations with Middle Eastern countries.
“For his efforts, the reply Barnier got from the Islamic Army in Iraq was a statement that France’s history with the Muslims was filled ‘with hate and blood’ and that if France hadn’t joined the Americans in the Iraq war, it was ‘for its own interests and not for the good of the Iraqi people’.”
Hmmm. Maybe we should get these people to become commentators on the BBC. They will be somewhat more accurate.

Worse was to come. The two negotiators, Barnier and a right-wing Gaullist member of the National Assembly, Didier Julia, fell out with each other and indulged in mutual mud-slinging. Two of M Julia’s associates are being investigated for allegedly illegal contacts with foreign powers. He, in turn, is threatening the government with potentially embarrassing revelations. Fun and games, n’est ce pas.

When the journalists were released it was hastily announced that there had been no payment, no ransom and, naturellement, no gunfire. However, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, which has a nasty habit of being right, has said that the French government paid out €15 million ($19.5 million, £11 million). If true, that would indicate that French journalists are worth far more than Italian aid workers.

Meanwhile, there has been remarkably little coverage of the fact that another French journalist has been missing since last May. For some reason there are no luvvies or bien pensants to trumpet Guy-André Kieffer’s fate, though he, too, was kidnapped while performing his duty and is likely to be held in atrocious conditions.

The thing is, he was kidnapped in the Ivory Coast, where the 5,000 strong occupying force is French. Two years ago the French paras went in there to sort out various problems without waiting for the UN Security Council approval, which they did get eventually, with American support. Since then, as we have reported, things have gone from bad to worse and President Laurent Gbagbo has accused the French of siding with the rebels.

In November France destroyed the tiny Ivorian air force in reprisal for the killing of nine French servicemen, and killed more than 20 people in subsequent anti-French riots. There are no plans for elections any time soon in Côte d’Ivoire.

It seems that M Kieffer of La Tribune was investigating corruption in the cocoa trade and picked up leads that point to men close to the President before he so conveniently disappeared. But the ever deeper French involvement in the Ivory Coast quagmire is not something the government or media likes to talk about. So poor M Kieffer may well have to suffer for a little longer.