Mystery over Paris "Syrian envoy resignation"

PARIS/CAIRO Tue Jun 7, 2011 4:13pm EDT

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PARIS/CAIRO (Reuters) - Two television channels aired audio comments on Tuesday from women they said were the Syrian ambassador in Paris but their contradictory comments left it unclear whether one of the broadcasts was a hoax or whether the diplomat had had a change of heart.

France 24 broadcast what it said was Syrian envoy Lamia Chakkour saying in French that she resigned in protest at the Syrian government's crackdown on protest. But Dubai-based Al-Arabiya aired a woman -- whose voice sounded rather different -- saying, in Arabic, that she was Chakkour and had not quit.

It was not immediately possible to reach the ambassador to confirm which of the statements was correct and telephone calls to the embassy were not answered.

Reuters had checked with the Syrian embassy in Paris before reporting the initial resignation statement aired on France 24. An e-mail response from the embassy, sent via its website, confirmed that ambassador Chakkour had resigned.

However, Syrian state media quickly reported that this was not the case. And Al-Arabiya aired angry comments in Arabic from a woman who said she was the ambassador and denied ever speaking to France 24 or giving up her post.

"I have not talked to any channel anywhere in the world," she said. "I am very angry."

"I am not only denying, but will also sue France 24 until this artificial channel goes bankrupt."

"I am sorry for this impersonation that was carried out by those wanton people," the woman added. "I have no contact with any French channel, nor any other. My position is clear and unchanged."

An editor at France 24 said she was familiar with Chakkour and that the channel stood by the comments which it broadcast. Deputy editorial director Renee Kaplan told Reuters she had complete confidence in the identity of Chakkour, who she said the station called on a number it has often used to reach her.

Chakkour's father was a senior figure in Syria's secret police. Her background as a member of Syria's Christian minority from a family regarded as loyal to Assad helped her secure her ambassadorial post.

(Reporting by Paris and Cairo bureaux)

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