Villacoublay (France): Two journalists held hostage for 18 months in Afghanistan came home to France on Wednesday to a Presidential welcome and nationwide relief.
   
Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere arrived at a military airbase in Villacoublay outside Paris from Kabul, greeted by President Nicolas Sarkozy, first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and France's defence and foreign ministers.
   
Smiling and firmly shaking hands with the crowd that met them at the airport, the two appeared in good health for the long-awaited homecoming.
   
The two journalists and three Afghan associates were kidnapped in December 2009 while working for France-3 television on a story about reconstruction on a road east of Kabul.
   
They had been embedded with French troops in Afghanistan, but decided to take off to report on their own and were captured.
   
Their plight prompted a nationwide campaign in France for their release, with banners bearing their photos in city halls around the country, banners taken down in joy after their release.
   
They were freed on Wednesday along with their Afghan translator, Reza Din.

French officials insisted that no ransom was paid for the men's freedom. The circumstances of the release remained unclear.
   
The Taliban said the insurgency movement was holding them and made a set of demands in exchange for the men's freedom.
   
In April 2010, after posting a video of the hostages on the Internet, the Taliban said they had submitted a list of prisoners to French authorities that they wanted freed in exchange for the journalists.

(Agencies)