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French Aid Worker Returns Home To Champagne, Family With PM-Hostages, Bjt

August 12, 1991

NICE, France (AP) _ Jerome Leyraud, who toasted freedom with champagne after three terrifying days as a hostage in Lebanon, says he never knew his captors had threatened to kill him.

Leyraud, 26, stepped off a government jet Sunday, waved to a small crowd of well-wishers and hugged his mother, Aimee, brother, Frederic, and Bernard Kouchner, the government’s secretary of state for humanitarian action.

Then he went off to drink champagne with family and friends.

″I thought often of my family, of freedom and of all the things we can do when we’re free,″ Leyraud said in brief remarks to reporters. ″I’m still thinking about the hostages still there, especially the Americans.″

Five of the remaining 11 Western hostages in Lebanon are American. The longest held is American Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped on March 16, 1985.

Leyraud, an administrator for Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, was coordinating the reconstruction of hospitals in war-torn Beirut, the Lebanese capital, when he was abducted. The group was founded by Kouchner.

Leyraud said he was willing to return to Lebanon ″because humanitarian action there is very important, and it must not be stopped.″

The Frenchman was kidnapped last Thursday by a previously unknown group, the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights, seized just eight hours after British hostage John McCarthy was freed.

The group said it would kill Leyraud if any more of the Western hostages were released.

Asked about the threat on his life, Leyraud told French television on Sunday, ″I never knew they had threatened to kill me.″

On Sunday, 60 hours after his abduction, he was left blindfolded and bound on a Beirut street. American hostage Edward Tracy was released hours later. His captors had said they were freeing him in an effort to help resolve the overall hostage crisis.

After his arrival in Nice, he left the airport in his brother Frederic’s car and headed for the family home at Grimaud, near Saint-Tropez, where several bottles of champagne awaited.

Leyraud’s family had started celebrating shortly after sunrise on Sunday when Medecins du Monde confirmed he had been freed. ″It was the best champagne I ever tasted in my life,″ said his father, Michel Leyraud.

Dozens of neighbors and friends packed into the family’s tiny tobacco shop to express their relief that Leyraud had been freed.

Premier Edith Cresson addressed a letter to Leyraud’s family offering her ″deepest sentiments of sympathy. Believe that I share with you the happiness of this moment.″

Leyraud had been the sole Frenchman in Beirut for the Paris-based Medecins du Monde, which specializes in bringing medical aid to war zones and areas struck by natural disaster. The group has been operating in Lebanon since 1982.

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