Fri, Oct 22, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Former hostage's comments raise Australian hackles

CALLOUSNESS?The foreign minister and others reacted strongly to John Martinkus saying his captors did not kill people indiscriminately

AP , SYDNEY

An Australian journalist who was kidnapped and freed by Iraqi militants drew fierce criticism yesterday for suggesting that the executions of British and US hostages were understandable.

John Martinkus was seized in Baghdad last Saturday and held for about 24 hours before being freed. The 35-year-old reporter was released after his captors looked up his name on the Internet and accepted that he was a freelance journalist rather than someone working for the US-led coalition. He sparked outrage among government officials and former hostages when he said his captors would not kill people indiscriminately.

"These guys, they're not stupid. They are fighting a war but they're not savages. They're not actually killing people willy-nilly. There was no reason for them to kill me," Martinkus told reporters on his arrival at Sydney airport on Tuesday.

"There was a reason to kill [British hostage Kenneth] Bigley, there was a reason to kill the [two] Americans. There was not a reason to kill me," he added.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer expressed outrage at the comments, saying Martinkus should not "give comfort" to Iraqi insurgents by saying their actions were understandable.

"I just could not believe he said those things, I was just appalled," Downer told Melbourne radio station 3AW yesterday. "[It's] pretty close to the most appalling thing any Australian has said about the situation in Iraq."

Steve Pratt, a former aid wor-ker accused of spying for the West and held captive in Yugoslavia for more than five months in 1999, said Martinkus's comments were irresponsible.

"There is no mistaking the arrogance in his remarks -- the dis-gusting disregard for the deaths of British hostage Ken Bigley and US civilians murdered by terrorists," he wrote in a letter to The Austra-lian newspaper yesterday.

"There is no excuse for anybody hacking those poor men's heads off. But Martinkus seems to be making excuses for their executioners," he said.

But Phil Martin, the head of news and current affairs at SBS, said Martinkus was traumatized and had not been given the opportunity to explain his remarks.

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