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8 Russians Kidnapped in Iraq, Japanese still missing
Updated: 2004-04-13 14:46

Eight Russian civilians were the latest foreigners kidnapped in Iraq and three Japanese were still missing on Tuesday, but China's official Xinhua news agency said seven Chinese had been freed.

Three of the seven Chinese nationals released Monday April 12, 2004. [AP]
The conflicting news on the fate of foreign hostages reflected the turmoil in Iraq, where U.S. forces have fought fierce battles with Sunni and Shi'ite guerrillas in the bloodiest violence since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago.

The kidnappings of the past week have added a new dimension to the fighting in Iraq, snaring civilians from at least a dozen countries -- some of which, like Russia and China, opposed the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam.

Russia confirmed on Tuesday that eight of its nationals working for an energy company had been taken hostage in Iraq.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Tuesday the government still did not have a clear outlook on the situation of three Japanese civilians kidnapped in Iraq.

Some guerrillas have sought international publicity for their hostage-taking to demand that their captives' governments withdraw troops from the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

The group holding the Japanese said last week it would burn them alive unless Japan pulled out its troops, while another has threatened to kill American Thomas Hamill if U.S. forces do not stop fighting Sunni guerrillas in Falluja, west of Baghdad.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney appealed on Tuesday to a divided Japanese public, in shock over the kidnappings, to get behind the U.S.-backed mission there at a difficult time.

"We understand what is at stake... The world shares your outrage today at the barbaric kidnapping... and stands with you in your determination to bring your people home safe," Cheney said in a speech at a symposium on Japan-U.S. relations.

A Television image aired April 12, 2004 by Arabic television Al Jazeera shows Chinese hostages released to an Iraqi Sunni Muslim clerical body which then handed them over to Chinese diplomats. [Reuters]
The U.S. military said a total of seven American civilian contractors, as well as two U.S. soldiers, were missing. The contractors worked for U.S. company Kellogg, Brown & Root and went missing after an attack on a U.S. fuel convoy on Friday.


Al Jazeera reported the Russians were kidnapped in Baghdad after a shootout between their Iraqi guards and the abductors.

Russia, which opposed U.S.-led military operations in Iraq and has refused to contribute any forces to the U.S.-led coalition there, has about 600 specialists working in Iraq, mainly in the oil sector.

"I confirm... that eight employees of Interenergoservis company in Baghdad have been kidnapped," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in televised comments.

Three Czech reporters were also reported missing on Monday.

Xinhua said the freed Chinese were kidnapped in Falluja on Sunday and two of them had been slightly injured in an accident.

Al Jazeera aired footage of the Chinese hostages, released to a Sunni clerical organization and then handed over to Chinese diplomats. The seven were from China's southeastern coastal province of Fujian. The oldest was 49 and the youngest 18.

Japan has been on tenterhooks since kidnappers released a video on Thursday showing the three Japanese captives blindfolded and with guns to their heads.

The Kyodo news agency quoted a self-proclaimed mediator working for the release of three as saying the kidnappers had agreed not to kill them.

Muzhir al-Duleimi, head of the previously unknown League for the Defense of the Rights of the Iraqi People, had contacted the kidnappers and been told the "health conditions of the three hostages are good," the agency said.

But Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, asked by reporters about the outlook for the hostage situation, said: "We still do not have (one)." Asked how the government would negotiate with the militant group holding them, Koizumi said it was working to verify various pieces of information.

A British contractor who had been held for six days was released on Sunday. A masked man said on a video tape on Sunday that eight other hostages -- three Pakistanis, two Turks, an Indian, a Nepalese and a Filipino -- had also been freed. No independent confirmation was available.

Last week, gunmen kidnapped seven South Korean evangelical church pastors but freed them the same day.

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