Two French journalists held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 18 months have returned to France after being freed by their captors.
France-3 television videographer Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere were greeted by relatives and French President Nicolas Sarkozy when they arrived Thursday at a military airport near Paris.
Looking healthy and jubilant, the two said they were doing well despite being confined indoors nearly 24 hours a day. They told reporters they were not beaten or mistreated by their captors, but suffered difficult living conditions.
The journalists and their Afghan translator, Reza Din, were released on Wednesday. They were abducted in December 2009 while working on a story about reconstruction east of Kabul. Two Afghan journalists who were kidnapped along with them were freed earlier.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The insurgent group released a statement Thursday saying Ghesquiere and Taponier were freed in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners, after France failed to free them using force. The Taliban often makes exaggerated claims.
French officials said the government did not pay a ransom for the journalists' release.
Ghesquiere said Thursday that he and Taponier were held separately in isolation for the majority of their captivity.
Sarkozy praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday for his handling of the situation and thanked others involved in securing the hostages' freedom.
The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the release. The New York-based group said Wednesday the journalists' ordeal is "a harsh reminder that reporting in Afghanistan continues to pose a challenge to reporters working in the country."
France has some 4,000 troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Last week, Sarkozy announced his country will pull hundreds of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Thursday marked two years since a U.S. soldier disappeared in Afghanistan, allegedly captured by the Taliban.
Bowe Bergdahl disappeared from his base in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.
Since then Bergdahl has appeared in at least four videos released by the Taliban. The most recent video, from December 2010, showed him looking worn with a large abrasion under his left eye.
An organization that monitors the Taliban identified another man seen in that video as a Taliban leader.
A NATO spokesman said Thursday that finding Bergdahl and returning him safely to his family remains a top priority.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Army promoted Bergdahl, who was a private at the time of his disappearance, to the rank of sergeant.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.