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French newspaper fears reporter in Iraq has been kidnapped

PARIS -- US forces in Iraq said yesterday that they are not holding a missing French reporter last seen leaving her Baghdad hotel two days ago, raising concern that she was kidnapped. France's president suggested it was irresponsible to dispatch journalists to Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac said he was worried for veteran reporter Florence Aubenas, 43, of the daily Liberation and France is ''naturally mobilizing all means to obtain information and find her."

Speaking at his annual New Year's reception for the media, Chirac also issued a stern reminder that French authorities ''categorically advise against sending journalists to this country," where their safety ''cannot be assured."

Patrick Sabatier, a deputy chief editor at Liberation, said it was still unclear what happened to Aubenas and her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, who were last seen Wednesday.

''There is absolutely no indication one way or another what the problem might be," Sabatier said in an Associated Press Television News interview. ''Of course kidnapping, being what it is in Iraq, is a distinct possibility."

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