China starts rescue work for hostages in Iraq
Chinese leaders are highly concerned with the case of Chinese nationals kidnapped in Iraq, and have instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese Embassy in Baghdad to begin rescue work with utmost efforts for an early release of the seven hostages, the Foreign Ministry said in Beijing Monday.
Top leaders of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government made the instructions after they learned of the kidnapping case in Iraq.
The seven Chinese nationals were kidnapped by armed men in Fallujah, west of Baghdad on Sunday after they entered Iraq via Jordan. The seven people, all male, were from China's eastern Fujian Province, Chinese diplomats in Baghdad said.
Sun Bigan, head of the team responsible for the re-establishment of the Chinese Embassy in Baghdad, called an emergent meeting and formed a special task force for rescue work.
Sun called the newly-appointed interim Iraqi Interior Minister, and asked the minister to take every necessary measure to determine the identity of the kidnappers, the location of hostages, and to rescue the seven under the precondition of ensuring their safety.
The Chinese diplomats are also contacting with officials of the interim Iraqi governing body and people of other walks of life to help for the rescue of the hostages.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry Monday advises Chinese nationals not to go to Iraq due to the current situation there. The ministry urged all Chinese nationals in Iraq to keep high vigilance, pay more attention to self-protection and keep contact with the team responsible for the re-establishment of Chinese Embassy in Iraq.
Earlier reports quoted foreign witnesses as saying that the Chinese captives were in good health and not handcuffed, but it remained unclear what the kidnappers will do with them.
Insurgents in Iraq have claimed that they held a number of foreign citizens hostage in an effort to negotiate a cease-fire or a full withdrawal of occupying troops.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV has reported that a militant group called Mujahedeen Brigades held three Japanese hostage and threatened to kill them unless Japan withdraws its some 500 troops from Iraq.
China, one of the five permanent members in the UN Security Council, is opposed to the military invasion of Iraq. It also refuses to send any troops to join the US-led coalition that occupies the war-ravaged country.
The US-led coalition has suffered the biggest setback in Iraq since the end of major fighting last May as more than 700 Iraqis and dozens of coalition troops have been killed in the US retaliatory operation since last Monday.
About 2,000 US Marines and 1,000 reinforcements have surrounded the town of Fallujah for the sixth day to hunt down insurgents behind the killing of four American contract workers and mutilating of their bodies on March 31.