Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Chinese citizens in Iraq kidnapped

ABDUCTION A group of Chinese civilians whose purpose in Iraq is unclear have been taken hostage, though nine other foreigners have been released

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD, BEIJING AND TOKYO

US soldiers guard the Japanese embassy in Baghdad, Sunday. Reporters had converged to learn the fate of three Japanese who had been taken hostage.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The list of foreign hostages held in Iraq has lengthened with the abduction of seven Chinese, even as nine other foreigners, including a Briton, were released by their captors.

The Chinese government confirmed yesterday that seven of its nationals became the latest foreigners to be kidnapped in Iraq, where deadly violence has surged in the past week to a level unprecedented since the US-led war last year.

A political advisor at the Chinese embassy in Jordan, said the seven men were civilians.

The seven -- Xue Yougui, Lin Jinping, Li Guiwu, Li Guiping, Wei Weilong, Chen Xiaojin and Lin Kongming -- had left Jordan on Saturday, entering Iraq the next day via the Amman-Baghdad route, which passes through the flashpoint town of Fallujah.

It did not identify them further or say what they were doing in Iraq.

China's leaders said they were "very concerned" about the kidnappings and China's foreign ministry said it had called on Iraq's new interior minister to identify the kidnappers, locate the hostages and rescue them safely.

Hope has been drawn from the release Sunday of a Briton, civilian contractor Gary Teeley, and a group of eight Asian drivers said to be working for the US-led coalition forces.

Teeley was snatched in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah almost a week earlier by the Mehdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, Italian forces in the city said Sunday.

But three Japanese and an American remain in peril.

An Iraqi group holding the US national has demanded the US lift its siege of Fallujah but has agreed not not kill him, self-described Iraqi mediator Mezher Dulaimi said yesterday.

Dulaimi, who heads an Iraqi human rights group, said the affair of the missing American had been settled, and he was in good health.

But there was no word on when he would be released.

But confusion reigned as to the fate of the three Japanese -- two humanitarian volunteers and a photojournalist, with a Japanese diplomat saying yesterday in Amman that "no progress at all" had been made toward securing their release.

The group holding the three, which calls itself the "Mujahedeen Brigades," initially declared a three-day ultimatum before carrying out their threat to burn the three alive. That deadline has now apparently been extended.

The abduction has sent shockwaves throughout Japan, whose government declared it would not be driven out of Iraq, where it maintains 550 troops on a humanitarian mission in the south.

US Vice President Dick Cheney told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday that he was doing the right thing by resisting mounting political pressure and keeping troops in Iraq despite shock over the trio's kidnapping.

Cheney said Washington would do all it could to secure the release of the three.

However, a senior administration official warned that giving in to their demands for withdrawing troops would only encourage more hostage-taking.

"We wholeheartedly support the position the prime minister has taken with respect to the question of Japanese hostages," Cheney told reporters after meeting Koizumi in Tokyo.

"We have consulted closely with the prime minister and his government to make certain we do everything we can to be of assistance," Cheney said.

Meanwhile, negotiations were still ongoing to free a Canadian aid worker.

Fadi Ihsan Fadel, 33, of Syrian origin, was seized around midnight Thursday by members of a local militia in Kufah, according to the US-based International Rescue Committee.

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