, PARIS, June 2013 – President Francois Hollande on Friday called for the immediate release of two French radio journalists who went missing shortly after arriving in Syria.
The Europe 1 station said Didier Francois, 53, a seasoned reporter in troublespots, and 22-year-old photographer Edouard Elias, had gone incommunicado for 24 hours while travelling on the road to Aleppo.
“I demand that these journalists be freed immediately,” Hollande told reporters in Japan, where he is currently on a tour, without mentioning the names or affiliation of those missing.
The reporters “are not representatives of any state, they are men who work so that the world can receive information,” Hollande said.
“The press must circulate in Syria in order to provide news awaited by the entire world” on what is happening in the country, he said.
Since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011, at least 24 journalists, including several foreigners, have been killed in the strife, according to the Reporters Without Borders watchdog group.
According to Hollande’s office, the two men were intercepted at a check-point.
“They disappeared, we must be careful. We don’t know who took them, sometimes opposition groups do such things,” a source in the president’s entourage said.
French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Francois and Elias could have been “kidnapped given that they were in an area where the situation is extremely dangerous.”
“We are trying to locate them using all the means at our disposal. We cannot rule out any hypotheses,” he said, adding that he had “no information at the moment about who (possibly abducted them) and why.”
Syrian regime forces were Friday trying to follow up on their victory in a key town near the Lebanon border by sending reinforcements to battle rebels in Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.
Europe 1 said it was in constant touch with French authorities. France does not have a diplomatic mission in Syria and its interests there are handled by the Romanian embassy.
The missing reporters, who crossed into Syria from Turkey late Wednesday, are veterans of war reporting, having covered events in Africa and the Middle East. Elias provided several photographs to AFP in February from Aleppo.
US reporter James Foley, a freelancer who worked for AFP, GlobalPost and other outlets, is believed to have been seized by armed men in northern Syria’s Idlib province on November 22. The 39-year-old remains missing.
Domenico Quirico from Italy’s La Stampa newspaper has been missing since April but the Italian foreign ministry and the daily recently said he was “alive” and still in Syria.
Assad’s regime is largely Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the rebels seeking to topple it are mainly Sunni Muslims.
More than 94,000 people have been killed and some 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war began after a crackdown on protests against the regime in March 2011.