Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Pope joins appeals for release of hostages


Pope John Paul appealed yesterday for the release of the French and other hostages in Iraq, saying human beings could not be treated like merchandise.

The 84-year-old Pope made his appeal in an address accepting the Political Courage Prize given to him by France's International Politics magazine.

"I am also thinking of the hostages and their families, innocent victims of violence and hate," he said in his French address to a group of dignitaries from France.

"I invite all people of goodwill to respect people's lives. Nothing can justify treating human beings like merchandise. The path of violence is a path with no way out."

Meanwhile, President Jacques Chirac of France is "concerned" at attempts by a French deputy to secure the release of two French hostages held in Iraq, saying he hoped it would not have negative consequences, aides said yesterday.

The lawmaker, Didier Julia, claimed late Friday in Damascus that US forces had torpedoed his private effort to free the two French journalists by firing on a convoy allegedly bringing them out of Iraq.

Julia, a member of Chirac's ruling party, said an assistant had persuaded the kidnappers to release Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who were abducted near Baghdad on Aug. 20.

Chirac's aides said that the president did not think the initiative was a positive development and "especially hopes that it will not be negative" for the reporters and their driver.

An insurgent group called the Islamic Army in Iraq is thought to be holding the hostages.

Chirac is "concerned at this interference in a delicate process," the aides said, while acknowledging that every avenue must be explored to try to secure the hostages' release.

Also yesterday, an imprisoned Islamic preacher rejected demands by Iraqi militants that he be released in return for two Indonesian women held hostage in Iraq, his lawyer said.

Instead, Abu Bakar Bashir, 66, asked the hostage-takers to immediately release Rosidah binti Anom and Rafikan binti Amin unconditionally, his lawyer Mahendradatta told Elshinta radio.

"Because he rejects being freed by means outside the law," the lawyer said.

A militant group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq made the request for Bashir's release in a video broadcast by al-Jazeera television.

Mahendradatta said the Indonesian cleric became extremely angry when he learned of the demand because it is forbidden by Islam to take innocent women hostage.

"Maybe the people who did this forgot that there are certain parameters or paradigms that cannot be violated in the Islamic struggle. These have been violated," Mahendradatta said.

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