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Workers told not to go to Iraq
Ultimatum to kill hostages ends today
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi July 23
The Government of India today suspended emigration clearance for workers for Iraq and “advised” Indian workers against going to Iraq even as hectic multi-national back-channel efforts were on to secure early and safe release of seven hostages in Iraq, including three Indians.

The Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of External Affairs and National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit have had hectic rounds of discussions and consultations on the Iraq hostage crisis while the External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh spoke to his Iraqi counterpart from Islamabad.

The deadline set by the captors — the little heard “The Holders of Black Banners” — of executing one hostage every 72 hours ends tomorrow at 8 PM (IST). The kidnappers in a statement reported by a news agency demanded that all citizens belonging to the countries of the hostages leave Iraq and end the activities of the transport company.

It is understood that the Government of India is not going to accede to the captors’ demand that it withdraws all its citizens from Iraq. There are more than 5000 Indians in Iraq at present.

Authoritative sources here told The Tribune this evening that there was nothing much for the Government of India to do in the matter of three Indians among seven taken hostage in Iraq. They said India had not sent any troops to Iraq and the Indian hostages — Ataryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh — had been privately engaged by a Kuwaiti firm and not sent by the Government of India.

Mr E. Ahamed, Minister of State in the MEA said in a four-page statement today that the government was concerned about the safety and well-being of the Indian hostages. “The Government has suspended emigration clearance for workers for Iraq and have also advised Indian workers against going to Iraq. Pilgrims wishing to pay visits to the holy shrines in Iraq are allowed to visit that country,” he said.

“I would like to assure the families of the hostages and the people of the country that the Government will spare no effort to secure the early release of the hostages, and their safe return home,” Mr Ahamed said.

Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL), for which the three Indian hostages have been working as heavy vehicle drivers, has issued an appeal to the kidnappers to release them at the earliest. “The company has assured our Embassy in Kuwait that they are willing to do everything necessary to ensure the safety and release of the hostages,” Mr Ahamed said.

Asked whether the company would be ready to close down its operations, which is the main demand of the kidnappers, Mr Ahamed said “Though it has not said so explicitly, one could presume so”.

Mr Ahamed stated: “We have been given to understand that hostages are unharmed and safe”.

The MEA has set up a 24-hour control room for information on the hostage crisis. Telephone numbers of the Control Room are: 23013036 (from 8 am to 8 pm) and 23011954 (from 8 pm to 8 am).

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