Eight French civilians have been re-united with their families after being released by Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas.
Eight French civilians have been re-united with their families after being released by Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas. They arrived in Paris led by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim who flew to Algiers and acted as an intermediary. In a wider diplomatic context their freedom signifies improved relations between Algeria and France.
SYNOPSIS: UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was first off the plane followed by officials and the released French nationals, including one woman, who were captured in Mauritania in May and October this year. The United Nations, acting on behalf of France, played a key role in the delicate negotiations.
Their imprisonment emphasised the extent that relations between France and Algeria had soured. Algeria is supporting Polisario guerrillas who are waging a war against Mauritania and Morocco over the Spanish Sahara, ceded to them at the beginning of 1976. Algeria claims alleged French involvement in the conflict.
But the diplomatic aspects were put aside as relatives and friends embraced the former prisoners brightening Christmas for all those involved. The French workers included mining engineers and railway experts who the Polisario claimed were in effect mercenaries whose activities helped the Mauritanian war effort.
The only dampening note is the memory of five young French tourists still missing in the Sahara since January.
For Kurt Waldheim an achievement in humane and perhaps diplomatic terms on the eve of Christmas, 1977.