M A I N   N E W S

Iraq on the boil
No trace of 40 Indians abducted in Iraq
Mostly from Punjab, hostages were working for a Baghdad-based firm; ex-envoy rushed to crisis-hit country
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 18
Forty Indian construction workers, mostly from Punjab, have been kidnapped from the Iraqi city of Mosul, which is in the hands of Sunni militants, but no ransom demands have been received and their whereabouts are unknown, said the Ministry of External Affairs on Wednesday.
Syed Akbaruddin, mea spokesman
Syed Akbaruddin, mea spokesman

There had been no contact with the abductors, said MEA spokesman Syed Akbaruddin. The International Red Crescent had confirmed to New Delhi about the abduction of these Indians, who worked for a construction company called Tariq Noor al-Huda. India is in touch with the Iraqi Government and several other agencies there. However, the current location of those kidnapped was not known.

Asked how many of these construction workers were from Punjab, another official said the exact number of those from the northern state was not available as the situation was extremely volatile in the Arab nation.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been constantly monitoring the situation. The minister also spoke to the families of some of those abducted.

“These are difficult circumstances...the government will leave no stone unturned to help every Indian stranded in Iraq,” the spokesman said.

According to estimates, there are nearly 10,000 Indians working in Iraq of whom only about 100 are in the violence-hit and insecure zone. That includes 46 Indian nurses working in a hospital in Tikrit, but Akbaruddin said humanitarian organisations had been in touch with them and they were all safe.

India has sent senior diplomat and former Ambassador to Iraq Suresh Reddy to the violence-hit nation to coordinate relief and rescue operations. The government, however, has come in for some criticism over its delayed response to the crisis in Iraq. The rebels had seized Mosul on June 9 but the government remained silent.

Talking to The Tribune, former Indian Ambassador to Iraq R Dayakar, who handled the hostage crisis in the Arab nation in 2004, was of the view that no provocative statement should be made by anybody which would antagonise the abductors.

120 Punjabis set to fly out of Basra

Nearly 120 Punjabis in another Iraqi city, Basra, are reportedly safe. They have been given tickets by their company to return home. "The company has arranged tickets for about 350 Indians, including 120 Punjabis. We are flying back home on June 22," said Hoshiarpur's Jatinder Singh who works as a carpenter.

46 Indian nurses safe

46 Indian nurses, stuck in a hospital in Tikrit, are safe. Humanitarian organisations were in touch with them and they were being provided all assistance, said External Affairs Ministry officials








Ensure their safety, Punjab urges Centre
Swaraj promises all help to Sukhbir
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 18
Worried over the fate over 40 Punjabi youths reportedly kidnapped in Iraq, the Punjab Government today said it was constantly in touch with the Centre that has promised their safe return.

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said he has spoken to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who has assured all help. “She said the Indian Government would ensure the safety of those held hostage,” said Sukhbir.

The Union Government has issued needful directions to the Indian High Commission in Iraq, he said. Sukhbir said the youths, who were yet to be identified, have been held hostage by Islamic fundamentalists.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Wednesday rushed to Delhi and met Swaraj. Badal said his state was ready to bear all expenses for the safe return of Punjabis kidnapped in Iraq. "We are very worried. I have met Union Minister Sushma Swaraj and asked her to make all-out efforts to secure the safe release of Indians stuck in Iraq," he said.

A large number of youths from Moga, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Amritsar and Ludhiana are believed to be working for construction companies or as drivers in Iraq. Tota Singh, Punjab NRI Affairs Minister, said he has requested the Ministry of External Affairs to use its good offices in Baghdad and other neighbouring countries to ensure the safe return of abducted youths.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal

Control room, helplines set up

The Punjab Government has set up a control room with helpline numbers - 0172-2740397, 2740035, 2740936 (fax) - for the assistance of distraught families of youths kidnapped in Iraq. Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has directed the Deputy Commissioners to keep in touch with family members of those abducted. Badal said the state government would bear the entire expenditure of youths' safe return.



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