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China to Iraq: 'Free Our Kidnapped Citizens' - 2004-04-12


China has called on Iraq's Governing Council to rescue seven Chinese citizens who are being held hostage in Fallujah, the Iraqi town that has been the scene of intense fighting over the past week between U.S. troops and Iraqi insurgents. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing says China's ambassador to Baghdad is leading an emergency team trying to gain the release of the men. Nine other foreigners reportedly were released Sunday, but Iraqi insurgents say they have more than 30 others in custody.

A Foreign Ministry statement Monday says Ambassador Sun Bigan has asked members of the Iraqi Governing Council to find out who abducted the Chinese nationals and where they are being held, and to arrange their safe rescue. Mr. Sun re-opened China's embassy in Baghdad in February.

The seven Chinese, described as workers from Fujian province, were abducted while traveling from Jordan toward the Iraqi capital early Sunday. According to the Xinhua news agency, an Arab journalist who saw the men in Fallujah said they were in good health.

Beijing has advised all Chinese passport-holders to stay out of Iraq if possible. At the same time, Chinese authorities have made a point of restating their opposition to the United States' decision to invade Iraq last year, and their refusal to support U.S - led coalition forces.

Eight foreign hostages - truck drivers from Pakistan, Turkey, Nepal, India and the Philippines - were released Sunday. The Arabic television network al-Jazeera, which broadcast pictures of the freed men, reported they promised their captors they would stop working for the U.S.- led coalition.

A British citizen also was released Sunday, but there is no word on the fate of three Japanese civilians and an American truck driver, who were seized in separate incidents Friday.

Japan has been swept by anxiety over its three hostages in Iraq. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has rejected an offer to trade the hostages' freedom for the withdrawal of Japan's 550 troops in Iraq.

The American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has said that coalition officials will not negotiate for the release of any hostages.

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