Eight French civilians have been re-united with their families after being released by Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas.
GV (NIGHT) Waldheim out of aircraft with officials and prisoners
GV UN and French flags over building
TV INT Waldheim and officials lead prisoners into lounge to be greeted by relatives
SV & CU Returned prisoners being embraced by their relatives (5 shots)
TV Prisoners and relatives talking together
SV Waldheim steps forward applauding
Latest charges from Algeria on French involvement in the Spanish Sahara war were given by Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflicka on 22 December and include reports that French aircraft had attacked guerrilla columns this month. Algeria also claims to have shot down two French Jaguar combat aircraft, killing one pilot....a claim categorically denied by the French government. News of the release came from the Communist Party Chief George Marchais who announced it at a news conference in Algiers. In political terms this has proved particularly embarrassing for President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, according to Reuter, in the run-up to the national elections to be held next March.
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Background: 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.