Video shows desperate plea for help by journalist held in Iraq

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The Independent Online

A French journalist, missing without trace in Iraq for two months, has appealed in a video recording for help from a disgraced French politician.

A French journalist, missing without trace in Iraq for two months, has appealed in a video recording for help from a disgraced French politician.

Florence Aubenas, 43, of the newspaper Libération, looked exhausted and dishevelled in a brief video broadcast by the Italian cable channel Sky-Italia.

Mme Aubenas, who was last seen on 5 January, said she was in poor physical and psychological health. She appealed for help from Didier Julia, a French parliamentarian who was criticised, and faces possible legal action, for his attempted intervention in the kidnapping of two other French journalists in Iraq last year.

The French government announced later that it had seen another video recording last week in which Mme Aubenas said, in English, that she was sick and needed help. There had been no reference to M. Julia in this tape, officials said.

The earlier recording had been shown to the journalist's family but not made public. No formal contact has yet been made by her kidnappers, the officials said.

M. Julia, who has been cited in a criminal investigation for "communication with a foreign power against the interests of the French state", appealed yesterday for the "freedom" to mount a rescue attempt. The government, his colleagues in President Jacques Chirac's UMP party and senior editors at Libération all said it was not desirable that M. Julia should become involved.

The centre-right deputy was an apologist for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. His attempts to free two kidnapped French journalists last year - which are alleged to have delayed their actual release by several weeks - are believed by the French security services to have been inspired, or manipulated, by Syria. The unofficial Julia rescue mission, partly funded by the President of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, who is in dispute with France, ended in farce and public exchanges of insults between the parliamentarian and French diplomats.

Security sources said they were studying the two tapes. Mme Aubenas is unlikely to have made the reference to M. Julia voluntarily, officials said. The use of his name may indicate that her kidnappers had Syrian connections. On the other hand, the tape might just be an attempt to embarrass the French government.

Mme Aubenas says on the tape: "S'il vous plait M. Julia, aidez-moi. C'est urgent, aidez-moi." (Please, Mr Julia, help me. It's urgent. Help me.")

Serge July, the publisher of Libération, said yesterday: "The tape does not make Didier Julia a legitimate go-between. We have no idea under what conditions this film was made."

M. Julia said: "I am paralysed. It is up to the services of the state to decide if they wish to restore my liberty of action or not. The state must decide whether one is allowed to assist someone in difficulty or whether that is now a crime." He added that he did not "entirely know" who the kidnappers were, but he "probably knew them a little".

He said the French authorities had known for a month that Mme Aubenas was alive and "roughly" who was holding her. He declined to elaborate.

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