Embassy: Eight Chinese hostages in Iraq freed
The Chinese embassy in Iraq confirmed on Saturday that the eight Chinese hostages held by Iraqi insurgents since Tuesday had been released.
Earlier, the Al-Arabiya television station said, citing a statement by their captors, reported that the hostages have been freed,
"The eight Chinese were freed and handed to the Committee of Muslim Scholars," a leading Sunni religious group in Iraq, an Al-Arabiya correspondent reported from Baghdad.
"What I want to stress is that the Chinese government has previously issued warnings on many occasions to its citizens, requesting them not to travel to Iraq," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement issued late Friday.
Kong pointed out that the Chinese were abducted on their way out of Iraq. "The eight Chinese people were kidnapped just as they were leaving Iraq. They should be safely released as soon as possible."
The captors, who call themselves Movement of the Islamic Resistance Nuamaan Brigades, made their demands in a video showing the hostages, the Dubai-based Arab channel said.
The eight Chinese men were shown on Al-Arabiya, standing in front of rocks, looking scared and confused.
Those working in Iraq or the Middle East would be urged to return home immediately and people planning to leave for those places would be persuaded to stay, according to an urgent notice issued Friday by Fujian's Fuzhou city.
Seven Chinese workers abducted in Iraq last April were later safely released.
On Tuesday, the kidnappers in the latest case released footage to Al-Jazeera television of the eight laborers holding Chinese passports and claimed they were helping the US military build facilities in Iraq.
The group demanded Beijing "clarify" its position on Iraq within 48 hours or the hostages would be killed.
The government and employers of the eight men have denied any link to the United States.
Their families have been ordered not to speak to reporters for fear their statements would not be in line with the Chinese government's -- which would complicate efforts to free the men, Beijing News said.
Coastal cities in Fujian have long been a major source of illegal Chinese immigrants abroad. Following the war in Iraq, Chinese workers have also surfaced in that war-ravaged country, but even the Chinese government does not know how many are there.
Beijing opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 but, like other nations, its companies have chased lucrative reconstruction contracts in the country.