M A I N   N E W S

Conflicting reports on hostage crisis
India has no confirmation of release
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 1
The 11-day-old Iraq hostages crisis remained unresolved from the Indian point of view following conflicting reports about whether the hostages had been released or not and two top officials of the Government of India telling The Tribune tonight that there was no confirmation on the release of the hostages.

The confusion started with an AFP report from Nairobi which quoted Kenyan Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwdre as saying: “We have received information that all the hostages, including the three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian, were released. They are in safe hands now.”

After this report was flashed by all television channels, National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit got in touch with the Indian embassies in Baghdad and Kuwait and was told that there was no confirmation yet from their side about the Kenyan Foreign Minister’s reported statement, sources said.

External Afairs Minister K. Natwar Singh also confirmed that there was no affirmation yet from Indian embassies in Baghdad and Kuwait that the hostages had been released.

“This media-driven dealing with such a sensitive issue involving human lives alarms us. I pray to God that these reports (about the hostages’ release) are indeed correct, but I have no confirmation about it as of now,” said a top source who is keeping in touch with the issue on a minute-to-minute basis.

The confusion was worse confounded by another AFP report, this time from Baghdad, which quoted the captors’ negotiator, Sheikh Hisham Al-Dulaimi as saying: “I know nothing about about it (the hostages’ release). This is all news to me. So far, there has been no positive result. The Kuwaiti company has not been responding to us. They have agreed to pull out of Iraq but they are still arguing about the compensation.”

A senior Kuwaiti diplomat told this corespondent this evening that the negotiations had now zeroed in on money. “I understand that they (the kidnappers) are negotiating on money. I don’t know what is the amount they are asking for. But it seems to be a sizable figure.”

“The Kuwaiti government is ready to do anything. We are not leaving them (the hostages) alone. So far the indications are positive. I am optimistic. We will not give up hope.

Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi this evening drove down to 7, Race Course Road, and had a long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister briefed her about his just-concluded first trip abroad to Bangkok where he had gone to attend the first BIMSTEC submit. The Prime Minister also apprised Ms Gandhi of the latest situation on the Iraq hostage crisis and the government’s step to secure an early and safe release of the hostages. The Prime Minister also had a meeting with Mr Natwar Singh where the External Affairs Minister briefed him on the hostages issue.

Earlier, a New Delhi-datelined PTI report quoted Rana Abu-Zaineh, spokesperson of Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, the Kuwaiti employer company of the hostages, as saying that the hostages were expected to be released “within hours”. The spokesperson said: “We are very optimistic that the hostage issue will end very soon. The negotiations are in the last stage and are wrapping now. You may hear the good news soon.”

The three Indians, Antaryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdeo Singh, along with three Kenyans and one Egyptian, all truck drivers working for KGL, were abducted in Iraq on July 21, with the kidnappers — ‘Islamic Secret Army — Holders of Black Banners’ — threatening to execute them if the company did not end its operations in Iraq.

The Crisis Management Group (CMG) headed by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed held two extensive rounds of meeting to take stock of the situation. Mr Ahamed said the government would facilitate return of its nationals who wish to in view of the “serious security situation” in that country. He said Sheikh Dulaimi had informed that all the Indian captives were “safe and being well looked after”. Mr Ahamed said the government appealed to the hostage-takers not to put any deadline. “We have been informed by our embassy in Kuwait that according to KGL company (employer of the captives), Sheikh Dulaimi has conveyed to a representative of the company that the hostage-takers have extended their deadline by another 24 hours,” Mr Ahamed told reporters here in the afternoon.

“We are encouraged that the deadline has been extended but will appeal to hostage-takers to remove the deadline so that families of the hostages can be reassured about the welfare of their loved ones,” he said. In response to a question whether the government had any confirmation about KGL pulling out of Iraq, the main demand of the abductors, Mr Ahamed said “we are given to understand all these matters have been settled.” The mediators are now negotiating “some other issues”, he said.

Mr Ahamed also said the government would extend all possible assistance to those Indians in Iraq who were interested in returning to India.

Mr Ahamed said that the Government was implementing its decision to prohibit travel of its citizens to Iraq across the borders of Kuwait and Jordan for the time being to ensure the safety of Indian citizens.

Meanwhile the Indian Government tonight expressed optimism of a “positive picture” emerging in the hostage crisis tomorrow.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said talks were progressing satisfactorily with the abductors of three Indian nationals in Iraq and a clear picture in the hostage crisis was expected to emerge tomorrow.


Blockade off after hostage’s kin appeal

Una (HP), August 1
Protesters demanding the release of Indian hostages in Iraq today agreed to lift the blockade on the Una-Chandigarh highway, which had remained closed for over 60 hours, following an appeal by parents of Antaryami, one of the captives.

Hundreds of stranded vehicles left for their destinations after the people staging the dharna near Dehlan and Mehatpur were persuaded to lift the blockade, police sources said.

The blockades on the road at Mehatpur and Dehlan was also lifted today after Ram Murti, father of Antaryami made an appeal to the agitators amid rekindled hopes of the return of the captives.

Earlier in the day, Himachal Cooperative Minister Kuldeep Kumar held a meeting of the crisis group and appealed to the people to open the highway. He also appealed to Ram Murti and Ram Dass, father and uncle, respectively, of Antaryami, to ask the people not to disrupt normal life.

Kumar said rumours like attempts to kidnap the foreigners and scuffles at various places were hampering the efforts of the government but assured that everything possible was being done to get the hostages released.

Ram Murti received a phone call from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday which raised the hope for the safe release of his son. However, the family was panicky again after a fresh deadline was issued today.

Meanwhile, Himachal Pradesh Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mukesh Agnihotri today visited the Zonal Hospital here and enquired about the well-being of the family members of the two hostages, who hail from Una district.

He met Mrs Promila Devi, wife of Tilak Raj, and Mrs Bhago Devi, mother of Antaryami. — PTI, UNI

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