The Iraqi kidnappers of two French reporters who have been missing since Aug. 20 today demanded a $5 million ransom as a condition for their release, according to a statement posted on an Islamic Web site. The Islamic Army in Iraq called on France to ``accept a truce with Sheikh Osama bin Laden,'' the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, ``pay a $5 million ransom and promise not to participate militarily and commercially in Iraq,'' the statement on the Islamic Minbar site said. It gave France 48 hours to comply. There was no way of verifying its authenticity. Christian Chesnot, 37, of Radio France Internationale, and Georges Malbrunot, 41, of Le Figaro daily and RTL radio, have been the subject of an intensive French government campaign for their liberation. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier spent last week shuttling between Arab capitals to seek their release. The kidnappers earlier demanded that France repeal a law that took effect Thursday banning the Muslim headscarf and other ``ostentatious'' signs of religious beliefs in state schools. French Muslim leaders denounced the captors' demands and dispatched a delegation to Baghdad to help French government efforts to obtain the journalists' freedom, informs Bloomberg. According to Reuters, a purported statement by Iraqi militants holding two French journalists hostage has demanded a $5 million (2.8 million pound) ransom and set a 48-hour deadline. The statement, posted on an Internet site on Monday in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq, punctured a mood of cautious optimism in France that Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot would be freed soon. The militants had previously planned to release the men but attacks had prevented them from doing so, said the statement. "We always take this type of information seriously ... we are trying to check its authenticity which is not established at this time," said French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. An Iraqi resistance group claiming to be behind the kidnapping of two French journalists today issued a ransom demand, in a dramatic development that threatened to dash French hopes that the pair would soon be free. In a statement posted on its web site, the Islamic Army in Iraq said it was seeking a Ј2.8m ransom for the release of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot and set a 48-hour deadline for their demands to be met. The statement, which has not yet been authenticated, also called for a truce with the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, and a promise of no military and commercial dealings with Iraq. These demands appear to be directed at the French government, which has been attempting to secure the release of Chesnot and Malbrunot for more than two weeks, reports Guardian Unlimited.
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