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Two French journalists freed in Afghanistan

MYT 12:15:28 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - Two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan for a year and a half have been freed, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said on Wednesday.

Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, both of whom worked for France 3 television, and their Afghan interpreter were taken hostage by armed militants on Dec. 30, 2009, while reporting on the reconstruction of a road east of Kabul.

The photos of Herve Ghesquiere (L) and Stephane Taponier are displayed to mark one year and six month of their captivity in Paris June 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen)

Minutes after France 3 reported that they had been freed, Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament that the two journalists were in good health and would be back in France in a matter of hours.

"The wind of freedom that has blown -- that is blowing -- on the Arab world also needs to be taken into account by the [other] hostage takers, who need to realise that this is not the right way to meet their objectives," he said. "They must free these men and women and join the democratic debate."

The two journalists' interpreter, Reza Din, was also freed, the French president's office said in a statement.

President Nicolas Sarkozy called Beatrice Coulon, Herve Ghesquiere's girlfriend, to tell her that he had been freed while she was attending a rally for the 18-month anniversary of his capture, the head of Reporters Without Borders told Reuters.

"It's the moment that I have been waiting for for so long. It's marvellous," she told France 3.

Thierry Taponier, brother of Stephane, told the same channel that he had not had any contact with his brother but expected to see him at a military airport near Paris early on Thursday.

Ghesquiere and Taponier's captivity was the longest for any French hostage since the Lebanese hostage crisis in the 1980s. The last proof of life received was a video released in November 2010.

(Reporting by Marc Angrand and Sophie Louet; writing by Nick Vinocur; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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