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August 19, 2009

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Rescued French tourists may need to pay

FRENCH tourists heading to risky foreign destinations could be asked to foot the bill if the French government comes to their rescue.

A draft law proposed by the country's foreign minister would oblige travelers to reimburse airfare and other costs incurred to rescue them from war zones, hostage-takings and other hostile situations.

Officials say it's aimed at promoting responsibility among travelers at a time of rampant piracy and abductions.

Critics, however, believe the measure would unlikely prevent hot-headed travelers from getting into trouble in dangerous corners of the world and say the government must protect its citizens, no matter what.

The Foreign Ministry says the measure will not affect cases like that of Clotilde Reiss, a 24-year-old French teacher on trial in Iran freed on Sunday on bail of about 200,000 euros (US$282,000) paid by the French government.

The ministry says the bill, presented by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner last month, would apply only to leisure-seeking tourists and their travel agencies.

Diplomats, reporters, aid workers and others engaged in professional activities abroad would be exempt under the new bill.

A Foreign Ministry official said the government paid 720,000 euros to fly home 500 tourists stranded in Thailand amid civil unrest in late 2008.

According to a preliminary draft of the law, the decision to fine a traveler would be taken by a French court and hopefully only on rare occasions, the official said. The tourist would cover all or part of the costs incurred by the government, such as travel fees, rescue operations and any other measures taken to protect their well-being, depending on the case.

It's still unclear whether it could apply to situations like that of the two French pleasure boats seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean over the past year whose hostages were freed by French navy commandos.


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