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2 French Hostages Are Freed : Pro-Iranian Group Drops Off Pair at West Beirut Hotel

November 29, 1987|Associated Press

BEIRUT — Two French hostages held by pro-Iranian captors in West Beirut were freed Friday evening, and one of them said he went for days without food and water in a windowless room.

Roger Auque, 31, a free-lance journalist who was kidnaped Jan. 13, and Jean-Louis Normandin, 36, a lighting engineer for France's Antenne-2 television news who was abducted March 8, 1986, were delivered to the seaside Summerland Hotel in West Beirut.

They were whisked from the Muslim sector of the capital to the French Embassy in Christian East Beirut in a bulletproof car, under escort by Syrian troops and Lebanese police. Reporters and photographers raced behind the 25-car convoy.

Agreement Reached

On Thursday night, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, an underground Shia Muslim faction, had said it would release two French hostages.

No move was made by Syrian troops to stop either of the two cars that dropped the men at the hotel. This indicated that French government negotiators had worked out an agreement with the captors before the release.

Pandemonium broke out as Auque and Normandin, under heavy escort, walked to the hotel's main gate under the blazing flashbulbs of news photographers and TV spotlights.

At one point, Syrian army officers--part of a peacekeeping contingent in charge of West Beirut security--threatened to break cameras on the heads of photographers.

Auque and Normandin spent an hour at the Summerland lobby with French Ambassador Paul Blanc and his senior aides before heading to east Beirut.

"I am OK. Everything is fine now," Auque said at the hotel. "I am very happy to be freed."

'Like a Dream'

"I can't believe I am free. It's like a dream. I hope that all other hostages will soon be released," he said.

Auque said he was held in a room without windows and guarded by gunmen through most of his captivity. "I spent days without food and water," he added.

Normandin told reporters: "I am in good spirits and feel very fine."

Asked when he thinks he would be able to fly home, he said: "I just can't wait to see those I love back home."

From the embassy, the men were taken to Blanc's home, five miles outside Beirut. They were to spend the night there, but embassy officials wouldn't say when they would go home.

Revolutionary Justice released a statement saying the release "closes the file of French hostages with our organization. We hold no other Frenchmen."

The group still holds two Americans: Joseph James Cicippio and Edward Austin Tracy. It did not make any reference to their fates.

8 Americans Missing

There are 20 foreigners, including eight Americans, missing after being kidnaped in Lebanon. In addition, Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite is missing after having vanished in January while on a mission to negotiate the release of hostages.

The longest-held hostage is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for Associated Press, who was kidnaped March 16, 1985.

Normandin was part of a four-man crew from Antenne-2 television, all of whom were abducted while returning from an assignment in south Beirut. Taken at the same time were Philippe Rochot, Georges Hansen and Aurel Cornea. All were freed last year.

In Paris, Rochot said: "The release of Jean-Louis is a little bit our release." He noted that while their colleague remained in captivity, the others did not really feel "completely free."

'Must Keep Up Hope'

"We are also thinking of the remaining hostages. . . . they must keep up hope," he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that while the Reagan Administration "welcomes any release of hostages, the fact remains that there are lots of other hostages still in captivity."

Shia Muslim factions claim to hold most of the hostages, who include four Frenchmen.

French Embassy spokesmen declined to say when Auque and Normandin would be taken home. Both appeared physically fit.

'Intensified Efforts'

In Damascus, Syria, one source said that "this happy result comes as a result of the intensified efforts displayed by Syria, and by Iran, at the request of French Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond during his last visit to Syria on Oct. 10-11."

"Thanks to the serious and intensified efforts of both Syria and Iran, once more a happy end could be reached in the case of these two additional hostages," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Paris, French President Francois Mitterrand said in a message to Normandin and Auque: "At a time when you are going to return to your country and those who are dear to you, I want to say I share your joy. My thoughts also go to our compatriots who are not yet free and toward their families."

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