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Chirac Thanks Algeria, Iran, Syria for Helping Gain Hostages’ Release With PM-Lebanon-Hostages, Bjt

June 21, 1986

PARIS (AP) _ Prime Minister Jacques Chirac today thanked Algeria, Iran and Syria for helping gain the release of two French television crewmen kidnapped in Lebanon, and expressed ″profound joy″ that the two had been freed.

The French prime minister made his comments to reporters early today after news of the release of Antenne-2 network correspondent Philippe Rochot and cameraman Georges Hansen in Beirut late Friday reached Paris.

Rochot and Hansen were part of a four-man crew for Antenne-2 that was kidnapped March 8 in west Beirut. The Revolutionary Justice Organization, a Shiite Moslem group believed loyal to Iran, claimed responsibility.

Two Beirut publications, the independent An-Nahar newspaper and the leftist As-Safir newspaper, both reported that an anonymous caller Friday said the TV crewmen were being released in part because of a change in French policy in the Middle East.

There had been growing speculation about a breakthrough in the French hostage crisis, especially after the leader of Iran’s main anti-government guerrilla group ended his self-exile in Paris last week.

Massoud Rajavi, head of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organization, left France under pressure from the government and set up headquarters in Iraq, Iran’s enemy in a 5 1/2 -year-old war.

The Foreign Ministry said the French ambassador to Lebanon, Christian Graeff, was trying to contact the two other members of the TV crew but as of early today had not succeeded.

Graeff reportedly arrived at Beirut’s Beau Rivage Hotel soon after the two Frenchmen left on an overland trip to Damascus, Syria, from where they were expected to leave later for France.

Chirac said he wanted to thank ″the civilian and religious authorities of the countries which used their influence to help us in our approaches and in particular, the Syrian, Algerian and, of course, Iranian governments.″

Syrian and Iranian influence on the kidnappers had been previously known, but it had not been revealed earlier that Algeria, a former French colony, was involved in the negotiations.

A communique issued by President Francois Mitterrand’s office shortly after Chirac spoke said that the ″incessant efforts accomplished to liberate our countrymen have succeeded, where Philippe Rochot and Georges Hansen are concerned.″

The communique added that Rochot and Hansen would return to France ″in the coming hours,″ without giving details. A French government jet went to Cyprus carrying senior officials Friday afternoon.

Mitterrand joined all French citizens in sharing the joy of the families of the two freed men ″and the hope of the other families,″ the communique said.

Chirac expressed his ″profound joy over the happy outcome.″

Paul Nahon, assistant chief editor of Antenne-2, said Friday night that ″we are all profoundly happy. The only problem is that we are thinking about those who stay behind....″

As well as the other two members of the Antenne-2 crew, Aurel Cornea and Jean-Louis Normandin, five other French nationals are missing in Lebanon, some for more than a year.

There have been claims that one of the missing Frenchmen, researcher Michel Seurat, has been killed, but his body has not been found, and there has been no other proof to back up the claim.

Rochot, 39, is one of France’s leading TV reporters and an Arabic speaker who has specialized in Middle East affairs for the past 15 years.

He and the crew kidnapped with him won the 1986 Albert London prize in France for their coverage of events in Lebanon and Mozambique.