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Romania asks Balkan leaders to help free hostages
Updated: 2005-05-11 20:08

Romanian President Traian Basescu appealed on Wednesday to neighbouring leaders to help bring home three Romanians kidnapped in Iraq and back the fight against "terrorism".

Abductors are threatening to kill the three Romanian journalists snatched in Baghdad on March 28 unless the staunch US ally pulls its troops out of Iraq.

"Romania is a country directly affected by terrorism," Basescu told a summit of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Bucharest.

"I appeal to you personally ... to support our efforts to bring the Romanian citizens home and, at the same time, use all tools at our disposal to fight this scourge of the world we live in," he added.

Bucharest has said it would not change its policy on Iraq despite opinion polls showing most Romanians want the 800 troops in Iraq to come home to save the reporters' lives.

Kidnapped during a short reporting trip to Iraq, Prima TV reporter Marie Jeanne Ion, cameraman Sorin Miscoci and Romania Libera daily journalist Ovidiu Ohanesian, have been shown in video aired by Al Jazeera handcuffed and at gunpoint.

Deadlines for their execution have already expired and Romania has asked for an extension to continue negotiations.

The reporters' parents have appealed for a troop pullout but Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said during a trip to the United States that Romania would not bow to threats.

Insurgents in Iraq have recently snatched two more foreign hostages -- an Australian engineer captured in Baghdad in late April and a Japanese security contractor seized on Sunday. Australia and Japan, both firm allies of the United States, insist they will not withdraw their troops.

A Romanian pullout would be a blow to the US-led "coalition of the willing" now occupying Iraq, after Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine and other countries have announced plans to scale back their presence there.

Leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Moldova are also participating in the two-day summit, which will hand over the SEECP presidency to Greece.

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