President Hollande welcomes release of French hostages in Syria
Paris, 19 April 2014
The French President was hugely relieved to hear this morning of the release of four French journalists who had been held hostage in Syria since June 2013.
Edouard Elias, Didier François, Nicolas Hénin and Pierre Torres are in good health, despite the very testing conditions of their captivity. They will return to France in the coming hours.
The Head of State thanks all those who made a happy outcome to this ordeal possible.
The President shares the joy of our compatriots’ families, who endured the anguish of this ordeal with a great sense of responsibility. He also pays tribute to all those friends and relatives who expressed their solidarity with our compatriots.
He reiterates his deep commitment to freedom of the press, which requires the crucial respect for journalists’ safety and integrity in their role of informing people.
The President remains concerned about the fate of two other French nationals still being held in the Sahel. He reaffirms his support for their families and recalls his determination and the state services’ tireless efforts to secure their release./.
Syria – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to RTL (excerpts)
Paris, 22 April 2014
Q. – On Saturday we all welcomed with huge joy the news of the release of the four French hostages held in Syria for 10 months. Were they held by French jihadists among others?
THE MINISTER – What I know is that some of those who held them spoke French…
Q. – And that raises again the terrible issue of those young French people who go to fight in Syria and may possibly attack French people.
THE MINISTER – Young or less young. Yes, it’s not a new issue, it was dealt with very closely by Manuel Valls when he was interior minister. Several weeks ago now, we had a Select Defence Council meeting on the subject, chaired by the President. It’s a very important subject because there are differences from previously. Now more people, and younger people, are leaving. Measures have been taken or are going to be taken.
Q. – What’s the number of French people estimated to be?
THE MINISTER – Hundreds.
Q. – Hundreds – 200, 500? Are various figures circulating?
THE MINISTER – Take the figure of 500.
Q. – A plan will be presented tomorrow at the Council of Ministers’ meeting by Bernard Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, to do what? Prevent the departures if it’s possible?
THE MINISTER – I’ll leave it to the Interior Minister to present the plan. A lot of actions have already been taken; our action consists in dealing with things from beginning to end. So what’s the beginning? It’s detecting all those, particularly young people, who are led into this tragic downward spiral. Among other things, this means monitoring cyberspace, because a lot of things are done on the Internet. Then there’s the passage to Syria, so measures must be taken to halt, prevent this passage. And there’s what happens there, then the issue of the return and the follow-up or reintegration. But it’s up to the Interior Minister to talk about this. (…)
Q. – French diplomacy is being called into question. Some people say: we support the armed opposition to Bashar al-Assad, and so that’s an encouragement to young French people to go and join that opposition, because we support it. What’s your reply to this criticism?
THE MINISTER – That’s totally confused. No, I haven’t heard that. Bashar al-Assad is an absolute tyrant responsible for the deaths of 150,000 people, and in a tragic parody this man has the nerve to stand in a bogus election due to be held on 3 June. There’s no question of supporting Bashar al-Assad for a single moment. Against him there are terrorist groups: essentially ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. There’s no question of us or any democrat supporting this terrorist front. If we want neither Bashar al-Assad nor the terrorists, that leaves what we call the moderate opposition, and this moderate opposition is supported by about 100 countries, and that’s our case too. There you are – let’s not get confused.
Q. – But it’s the inability to remove Bashar al-Assad – no one’s criticizing the international community for it, but it’s a fact – that may encourage people, French people, to go and support the people who are fighting Bashar al-Assad.
THE MINISTER – No, no justification can be given to those who support terrorist groups. Did you see how our journalists, your colleagues, were treated? On the ground, in the darkness, maltreatment bordering on torture, and there have also been murders, because a lot of journalists have been murdered. There’s no question of supporting those groups. But if we want neither Bashar al-Assad – a dictator, tyrant and murderer – nor the terrorist groups, the solution is a political solution involving support for the moderate opposition. That’s what we’ve said from the outset.
Unfortunately – we must say it straight – Bashar al-Assad is supported by the Russians, the Iranians and Hezbollah.
Q. – And his departure can’t be envisaged today?
THE MINISTER – It would be desirable. Things are continuing, unfortunately, with tragic consequences in Syria and the neighbouring countries. You see Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. It’s a terrible situation and we say that the only solution is political, provided the countries involved accept these political solutions.
Q. – So tomorrow an anti-jihadist plan will be presented at the Council of Ministers’ meeting. You mentioned it briefly: the presidential election may be held even so in Syria on 3 June…
THE MINISTER – It’s a nonsense. The international community has described it as a tragic parody. The last two times, Bashar al-Assad gained more than 97% of the vote, so a small margin for improvement is possible. We’re looking at a country at war; in order to be a candidate, you must have lived there for more than 10 years and be supported by a number of deputies, when there are only pro-Assad deputies. The international community has already rejected this parody.
Q. – Will this presidential election provide no legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad?
THE MINISTER – None! (…)./.