Vol. 5 Num 57 Fri. July 23, 2004  

India urges militants to set free hostages

India is trying to open channels of communication with the militant group, which abducted three of its nationals along with three Kenyans and an Egyptian on Wednesday, to secure their safe and early release, official sources said here yesterday.

Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, now in Islamabad after attending the Saarc Foreign Ministers' meeting there, said in a statement issue that New Delhi was in touch with the authorities in Iraq to secure the early release of the three Indians taken hostage by the militant outfit, which calls itself as "The Holders of the Black Banner."

In an interview to the Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera, Singh appealed to the militants to free the hostages as they are non-combatants and innocent.

The Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed said all possible steps would be taken to secure the release of the Indian hostages who are in Iraq and working for a Kuwaiti transport firm.

He said the three Indians had gone to Iraq on their own and the Indian government has no role in it.

Ahmed said India has made it clear several times that it is opposed to sending troops to Iraq and that is the reason why no Indian has not so far been harmed anywhere in the world.

Indian Ambassador to Iraq B B Tyagi, who was here, rushed back to Baghdad yesterday to help secure the release of the hostages. The Indian embassy in Jordan has been asked to get in touch with the mission in Kuwait.

The militants have threatened to kill each hostage after 72 hours, a deadline, which expires on the night of Saturday. They are demanding that the countries to which the hostages belong pull their troops out of Iraq. However, neither India, nor Kenya or Egypt have their soldiers in Iraq.

Seven foreign truck drivers held hostage by an Islamic group calling themselves "The Black Banners", sit together at an undisclosed location in Iraq Wednesday. Three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian were abducted by insurgents in Iraq Wednesday. The abductors demand their employers, a Kuwaiti company, to quit their activities in Iraq. PHOTO: AFP