The first French prisoners to be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, returned to France on Tuesday, as officials continued negotiating for the release of three others, the Foreign Ministry said.

The four prisoners arrived at a military base in Normandy and were to be questioned by counterintelligence agents and appear before anti-terrorism Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, French officials said.

Officials in Washington and Paris accelerated talks in recent weeks to allow some of the French detainees at Guantanamo to return home.

"It's the result of long efforts," President Jacques Chirac told reporters during a visit to Madagascar. "We will naturally continue the discussions with American authorities to obtain the handover of the two or three other detainees."

The men were to be investigated for criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, the officials said.

After months of international criticism for holding hundreds of suspects at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base without charge, the United States has been gradually releasing some prisoners to their home countries.

"The decision to transfer or release a detainee is based on many factors, including whether the detainee is of further intelligence value to the United States and whether he is believed to pose a threat to the United States if released," the Pentagon said.

The four handed over were Mourad Benchellali, Imad Kanouni, Nizar Sassi and Brahim Yadel, judicial officials said.

Defense lawyer Jacques Debray, expressed "great satisfaction" that his two clients were among the four returning to France. He represents Benchellali, 24, and Sassi, 22, who come from a working-class suburb of the southeastern city of Lyon.

France has long sought the return. Yadel was wanted in an investigation into a training camp set up by Islamic militants in the late 1990s south of Paris. Benchellali is the son of an imam who was arrested in connection with a suspected terrorist network.