'Liberation' Reporter Missing in Iraq Appears on Tape

By: (AP) French journalist Florence Aubenas, looking pale and distraught, appealed for help on a video released Tuesday, the first since she went missing in Iraq on Jan. 5.

The veteran war correspondent for Liberation, the Paris newspaper, and her Iraqi translator were last seen leaving her Baghdad hotel. The video was dropped at the offices of an international news agency in Baghdad.

It was not possible to verify the tape's authenticity or when it was made.

Appearing alone in front of a maroon-colored background, Aubenas looked tired and said she was in bad health. She called upon French lawmaker Didier Julia -- who had mediated in the release of other French hostages -- to help her.

"Please help me, my health is very bad," she said in English. "Please, it's urgent now. I also especially Mr. Didier Julia, the French deputy to help me. Please Mr. Julia help me, it's urgent, help me."

Her hair uncombed, Aubenas was dressed in a white sweater and grasped her knees with her arms as she spoke.

Before the video, there had been no firm word on the fate of the 43-year-old, who previously has covered Kosovo, Algeria, Rwanda, and Afghanistan in her 19 years with Liberation.

Julia, a headstrong lawmaker from President Jacques Chirac's governing party, had caused an uproar in September when, without official authorization, he mediated for the release of the then kidnapped French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. The two men were released in December after four months of captivity.

Julia was accused by French authorities of meddling in the government's attempts to release the two men, almost sabotaging it. The maverick lawmaker defended his interference, saying he had hoped his contacts in the Middle East would enable him to make progress where, he claimed, France's government has failed.

Another journalist in Iraq, Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad on Feb. 4.

She appeared in a video last month begging for her life and warning foreigners -- including journalists -- to leave the country. She was held by a previously unheard of group called Mujahedeen Without Borders.


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