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French Hostage Returns Home on Christmas Day

December 26, 1986

PARIS (AP) _ Aurel Cornea, the fifth French hostage to be freed from Lebanon in six months, returned to Paris on Christmas Day and said he felt great joy at being home.

″It’s true that I’m in Paris, but I don’t really believe it,″ Cornea said Thursday after stepping from the government Mystere 20 aircraft which flew him to freedom after nearly 10 months in captivity.

Clean shaven, appearing tired but smiling, the soundman for Antenne-2 television station said he felt ″enormous joy″ at being home.

″I’m not yet really with you,″ he told Antenne-2 on its evening newscast. He said the full beard he wore when set free Wednesday was shaven by a French gendarme at the French Embassy in Beirut.

″The first image that struck me when I left (captivity) was when I saw French gendarmes at the embassy ... the first image of freedom,″ he said, still choked with emotion. ″I kissed them.″

Premier Jacques Chirac, Cornea’s wife at his side, greeted the freed hostage at Orly airport, where the plane landed on schedule at 3 p.m. Philippe Rochot and Georges Hanses, both kidnapped with Cornea but released in June, gave their Antenne-2 colleague emotional embraces.

They were part of a four-man TV crew kidnapped March 8 by the Revolutionary Justice Organization. Lighting engineer Jean-Louis Normandin remains captive.

Cornea told Antenne-2 that he and Normandin were well treated, had been given video cassette films and playing cards.

Asked what he wanted to do most Friday, Cornea replied: ″Look at the sun.″

At least four other French citizens remain hostage in Lebanon, three of them held by the Islamic Jihad group. As with Revolutionary Justice, it is believed to be made up of Shiite Moslem zealots loyal to Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Six Americans still are missing in Lebanon after being kidnapped.

French hostages Marcel Carton and Marcel Fontaine, both diplomats, and journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann sent Christmas letters to their families, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported. The agency said the letters were left on a cafe counter in Moslem west Beirut.

Kauffmann’s wife, Joelle, spent her second Christmas in Beirut ″to be close to my husband.″ Kauffmann was kidnapped May 22, 1985. Carton and Fontaine were kidnapped March 22, 1985. They are held by Islamic Jihad.

Frenchmen Camille Sontag and Marcel Coudari, kidnapped by Revolutionary Justice, were freed Nov. 11.

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