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Iraqi commandos free Lebanese hostage
Updated: 2004-08-02 08:45

Iraqi commandos freed a Lebanese hostage Sunday, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry source said, but there was no word on another Lebanese seized in a growing wave of kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq.

In a separate hostage standoff, a Kuwaiti company and a top Iraqi mediator dismissed reports that a group of seven foreign truck drivers -- three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian -- had been freed.

A freed Iraqi prisoner hugs his brother following his release from the Abu Ghraib prison at al-Ameriyah military base, west of Baghdad. [AFP]
"Iraqi commando forces carried out a military operation on the kidnappers of Vlad Damaa and released him half an hour ago," the source said in Beirut, declining to give any more details.

Damaa was seized at gunpoint Friday from a construction concern he runs with a brother that sells prefabricated buildings to U.S. forces in Iraq, his family said.

No comment was available from Iraq's interim government, which is building up its own forces but remains heavily reliant on some 160,000 mostly U.S. foreign troops for security.

The second Lebanese hostage, Antoine Antoun, was seized from his Baghdad dairy along with a Syrian trucker, relatives said.

His tearful parents pleaded from their north Lebanon home for the release of the 29-year-old, also abducted Friday.

"I say to the Muslim clerics and the Iraqi people, I am willing to sacrifice myself for my son and Iraq," said Antoun's father Robert.

A growing wave of hostage-taking has hit Iraq since April as guerrillas wage a campaign to undermine U.S.-led forces and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government.


Scores of foreigners from two dozen countries have been seized, most of them truckers working for foreign companies delivering supplies to U.S. forces or Iraqi companies. At least eight hostages have been killed, four by beheading.

In the case of the seven truckers, Kenyan Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere told a news conference in Nairobi all of them had been freed and were at the Egyptian embassy in Baghdad.

But the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company which employs the seven truckers said they were still being held hostage.

"They have not been released ... We are still negotiating," said Rana Abu Zaneih, a company spokeswoman.

Sheik Hisham al-Dulaymi, chief Iraqi negotiator in the hostage standoff, said no deal had been struck with the kidnappers, calling themselves the Black Banners Division of the Islamic Secret Army.

"There's no way they could be released. On the contrary, there are some complications with the negotiations, but we're still hopeful," said Dulaymi.

In a letter to Dulaymi, the kidnappers called on him to withdraw from negotiations, saying the Kuwaiti company was stalling on their demands and foreign governments did not care.

A source at the talks said the kidnappers had demanded the company quit Iraq, help free Iraqi prisoners in Kuwait and provide compensation for people killed in U.S. military strikes on the restive city of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

India said it had no confirmation the seven had been freed.

Saturday, militants led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- accused by Washington of links to al Qaeda -- said they had kidnapped two Turkish truck drivers and would behead them in 48 hours unless their Turkish employer quit the country.

A Somali driver is also being held by Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group.

A senior Iraqi government source said Saturday Iraq was urging foreign transport companies to employ Iraqi drivers instead of foreigners in an effort to stem kidnappings.

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