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Chirac Concerned about French Journalist Missing in Iraq


French President Jacques Chirac says his government will do all it can to find a French journalist who is feared to be the newest hostage in Iraq. Mr. Chirac spoke during a New Year's reception for the media at the presidential residence.

President Chirac acknowledged the French government was worried about the fate of Florence Aubenas, a veteran war correspondent for France's Liberation newspaper, who has not been heard from since Wednesday. Ms. Aubenas' Iraqi interpreter has also disappeared. In remarks to a packed crowd of reporters at the Elysee presidential palace, Mr. Chirac also delivered a strong warning about the current dangers of reporting in Iraq.

Currently, Mr. Chirac, said the security of the press cannot be guaranteed in Iraq. He said the French government did not advise journalists to travel to Baghdad at this point of time. It's a question of responsibility, he said.

Mr. Chirac also noted that 53 reporters were killed worldwide in 2004. Another 107 were imprisoned and 900 were arrested. And he noted that more than 1,100 journalists were physically attacked last year. Those figures were recently published by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based advocacy group.

Dozens of foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq in recent months, including a number of reporters. Some have been released, but many have been executed, including British-Iraqi aid worker Margaret Hassan.

France received good news just before Christmas, when the extremist group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, released French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, after holding the two for nearly four months. Both were present at the Elysee reception.

Now, many fear that Ms. Aubenas, 43, may be the newest French hostage. News of her disappearance emerged Thursday evening. It has unleashed a debate here over whether to send reporters to Iraq. A number of French media have pulled their journalists out of Baghdad. But in an article published Friday, Liberation defended sending Ms. Aubenas to Iraq. It said journalists had a duty not to allow information to be monopolized by those who wanted to manipulate the truth.

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