Report says French journalist freed by Taliban
Saturday November 3, 10:48 PM
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A French journalist who disguised himself as a Muslim woman to slip into Afghanistan was released by the ruling Taliban on Saturday, 25 days after he was arrested on suspicion of spying.
The Pakistani-based Afghan Islamic Press agency said Michel Peyrard, 44, from Paris Match magazine, was freed in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and sent to a border crossing point in the Khyber Pass.
AIP said later he had crossed into Pakistan, where he was met by the French ambassador.
"An investigation has revealed that the arrested Frenchman was not a spy but a journalist. On this basis the Afghan government has decided to release him," AIP quoted the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, as saying.
President Jacques Chirac welcomed Peyrard's release in a statement issued by the Elysee Palace.
"The head of state shares the joy of Michel Peyrard's family and of the Paris Match journalists," it said. It added that Chirac was particularly grateful to Pakistani authorities for their assistance, but did not elaborate.
The Taliban had held Peyrard since October 9, when he entered Afghanistan illegally wearing a head-to-toe Muslim burqa women's veil to report on the U.S. bombing campaign.
The managing director of Paris Match said earlier this week he believed Peyrard would be freed "in a matter of days" after it was understood that the Taliban dropped their suspicions against him and two accompanying Pakistani reporters.
In France, Peyrard's family described their relief at his release.
"We are bursting with joy. We expect a phone call from Michel any minute now," his sister Corinne Charlaix told Reuters by telephone from her house near the eastern city of Grenoble.
"We were really afraid he would be convicted and were scared because of the (U.S. military) strikes. It seemed every time our hopes were raised, they were dashed," she added of the uncertainty that had surrounded his fate.
Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine visited Pakistan on Friday and French leaders including President Jacques Chirac had called for Peyrard's release.
The Taliban last month released a British journalist who slipped into Afghanistan without permission to report on the U.S.-led campaign to flush out Osama bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on U.S. landmarks.
The Taliban have issued few visas to foreign journalists and organised only two brief trips for foreign reporters into the war-battered country.
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