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    Kidnapped Chinese free, to be home soon
Jiang Zhuqing in Beijing and Hu Meidong in Fujian
2004-04-14 06:31

After 36 hours as international hostages, the seven Chinese nationals abducted in Iraq were released and handed over to Chinese diplomats early yesterday morning , Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

Two of the seven hostages were injured in a traffic accident while the rest are in good condition, Kong said yesterday. The group will be sent back home, according to the Chinese diplomatic team in Iraq now working to re-establish the Chinese Embassy in Baghdad.

The Iraqi kidnappers agreed to hand over the Chinese to the local Association of Islamic Clerics at the urging of the religious group, a sheikh with the association said .

During their custody, the Chinese said they suffered no torture or inhumane treatment, Kong indicated.

"There were no negotiations held nor was any ransom paid during the recovery," said Kong.

He refuted accusations that the Chinese workers were illegal migrants entering the country through the work of so-called "snakehead" human smugglers, saying they all had entered Iraq through "normal procedures."

Meanwhile, he also warned that Chinese citizens should adopt a cautious attitude when deciding to travel to Iraq since the situation there is "very worrying."

Kong expressed sympathy to foreign citizens kidnapped in Iraq, hoping all the hostages will be set free soon

More than 60 foreigners, including Americans, Italians, Japanese and Britons, were kidnapped during the past week.

After hearing of the abduction news on Monday night, Chinese diplomats in Iraq, Jordan and Syria worked around the clock to save the hostages, Kong said.

He expressed deep gratitude for the assistance of Iraqi people from all walks of life.

Chinese diplomats also contacted officials of the interim Iraqi governing body.

The spokesman stressed the overall Iraqi issue should be resolved within the framework of United Nations.

China, one of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council, opposes the military invasion of Iraq and has refused to join the US-led coalition that occupies the war-ravaged country.

The seven Chinese workers were abducted Sunday morning on a highway that extends from northern city of Mosul to Falluja, 50 kilometres west of Baghdad. The men were traveling to Baghdad via Jordan.

The seven are from East China's Fujian Province and left China several days ago. At their hometown, Pingtan County, relatives and family members kept a vigil worrying about the men's safety and hoping they would be returned home soon.

Li Liangjiao, wife of hostage Wei Weilong, said she knows little about the situation in Iraq but feels a little more relaxed after hearing her husband is safe.

"The most important thing is that the seven people can return safely as soon as possible," Li said.

Besides Wei's parents living with the couple, Li and Wei have a three-year daughter and a five-year son.

Li Zongqui, 59-year-old father of hostage Li Guiping, said he had not known that Iraq is at war, otherwise he would not have allowed his only son to go there to work.

"Guiping promised me to call back as soon as he got to Iraq, but we got no message after he left four days ago," the sobbing father said. "At that time I thought that something bad must have occurred."

(China Daily 04/14/2004 page1)