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Serge Lazarevic, France’s Last Hostage in Mali, Returns Home

VILLACOUBLAY, France — France's last hostage abroad returned home after three years in captivity and was welcomed by President Francois Hollande, who warned citizens not to travel to high-risk zones. Serge Lazarevic, 50, was kidnapped by al Qaeda's North African wing in northern Mali in late 2011.

A beaming Lazarevic met his family and the president on the tarmac of Villacoublay airport near Paris after getting off a flight from Niger on Wednesday. "Being a hostage is a bit difficult, it's not easy. But life is beautiful, to be freed again," Lazarevic told a waiting group of TV cameras and reporters. "I forgot what freedom is, don't ever forget."

"Be careful because freedom is the most priceless thing," he added. Hollande told the ex-hostage that France had been "waiting for you for three years," telling Lazarevic "it's a joy to welcome you back."

Image: Serge Lazarevic, left, France's last remaining hostage, embraces French President Francois Hollande
Serge Lazarevic, left, France's last remaining hostage, embraces French President Francois Hollande after landing in a French Republic plane at the Villacoublay military base near Paris on December 10, 2014. Lazarevic, who was snatched by armed men in Mali on November 24, 2011, arrived home on December 10 after three years at the hands of Islamist militants, and was greeted by French President Francois Hollande. BERTRAND GUAY / AFP - Getty Images

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— Reuters