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Iraqi clerics help seek hostages' freedom
By Qin Jize, Hu Qihua (China Daily/Xinhua/Agencies)
Updated: 2005-01-20 02:21

Mediators trying to help China win the release of eight of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq are optimistic of success, as the deadline for the captives' execution approaches.

Diplomats from China's embassy in Baghdad were in talks with the Islamic Scholars Association and its chairman Harith Al-Dhari, who helped in the release of seven Chinese taken hostage last April, the Xinhua news agency said.

"All of the Iraqi people know the attitude of the Chinese people toward the Iraqi issue, and I am optimistic that the kidnapped Chinese will be released soon," the chairman told the agency in the Iraqi capital.

"As long as the kidnappers claim themselves to be an Islamic party, I feel that the lives of the kidnapped are not in danger," he said.

His organization issued a statement "calling on all the kidnapping powers to release all those held hostage in Iraq" to mark the Muslim feast of Eid Adhha.

Iraqi clerics help mediate

Chinese Foreign Ministry and Embassy officials in Iraq are awaiting developments from contacts with Iraqi religious leaders who are helping to seek the release of eight hostages kidnapped and held by militants.

Chinese hostage Lin Bin's 80-year-old mother is being kept in the dark by her family. She has been looking foward to a reunion in the family's hometown, Hushan Village, Pingtan County, Fujian Province.[newsphoto]   
Diplomats contacted the local Association of Islamic Clerics, who helped in the freeing of seven Chinese held in Iraq last April, sources said.

Meanwhile,top Chinese leaders yesterday urged officials to continue all efforts in seeking the safe rescue of the eight Chinese workers from Fujian Province, believed abducted as they were travelling to Jordan.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders have voiced concerns about the safety of the men, and ordered Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy officials to take every effective measure to gain their freedom.

Also yesterday, both Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce officials issued emergency warnings to remind Chinese citizens, including business people and construction workers, to be cautious of their personal safety in foreign countries.

The Foreign Ministry said the public should avoid travel in Iraq to avoid unforeseeable incidents.

The commerce ministry said Chinese business people and construction workers who wish to work abroad to employ legal channels, and never to trust illegal intermediary organizations or individuals.

And a Chinese entrepreneur who has been doing business in Iraq for more than 20 years helped to clarify just where the eight hostages were working. He said the men had no links with US troops.

Liaison man for job

Chen Xianzhong, the last man to have had close contact with the hostages, said the site where the men once worked is a clothing-processing plant owned by Chinese business people, according to yesterday's Beijing-based evening newspaper, the Mirror (Fazhi Wanbao).

A video grab image shows eight hostages holding Chinese passports standing before a mud brick wall along with two masked gunmen. The kidnappers threathen to kill them within 48 hours unless China clarifies its stance on Iraq. [Reuters]
A video grab image shows eight hostages holding Chinese passports standing before a mud brick wall along with two masked gunmen. The kidnappers threathen to kill them within 48 hours unless China clarifies its stance on Iraq. [Reuters]
Iraqi insurgents have accused the Chinese employees of "working for one of the Chinese companies helping to build American facilities in Iraq."

"It is fantastic talk to say they are working for the companies helping the Americans with their Iraq facilities," Chen was quoted as saying.

Chen said a 10 Fujian natives came to Iraq with the hope of earning money early last year.

They discovered Chen five months after their arrival in Iraq and were introduced by Chen to a clothes-processing company that required reconstruction.

"They stayed in Iraq for about a year," said Chen, who helped them to fill out the visa application to Jordan.

Two others, named Chen Bo and Weng Zuxue, stayed in Iraq and didn't go with their countrymen, who started their journey on January 12.

Chen said the eight people went missing last week while travelling to Jordan.

"I knew something bad had happened because they would've given me a call if they could get home as expected," Chen said.

Company official

His words were echoed by Yang, Chinese representative of the clothes-processing company in Iraq.

"I have no idea why they were kidnapped by those militants since our company doesn't have a single link with the United States," he said.

Yang said the captured Chinese people left the company in November.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry partially confirmed their remarks, saying the hostages once worked for a Chinese-invested private enterprise in Iraq.

They lost their jobs later and then rented vehicles to leave Iraq, and were taken hostage as they were travelling, a source said.,

Chinese foreign ministry and embassy officials said they will continue making round-the-clock efforts to try to free the hostages.

An influential Sunni Muslim body also called for the release of all kidnapped people in Iraq yesterday on the occasion of the Muslim feast of Adhaa (sacrifice feast).

The Association of Muslim Scholars appealed in a statement for Muslims "in all parties that have kidnapped people, to release them and end their suffering whoever they are, Iraqis or others."

The statement also called on the kidnappers to "deal with them (kidnapped people) according to the norms of our religion, and not to terrify them by threatening them with death or other means which Islam forbids."

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