India won't talk to Iraqi abductors

By HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA, United Press International  |  Aug. 20, 2004 at 1:16 PM
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NEW DELHI, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- India's federal government has ruled out holding direct talks with the Iraqi abductors of three Indians, saying it doesn't negotiate with mercenaries.

India's junior foreign minister, E. Ahamed, told parliament: "It is the policy of the government not to talk to terrorists."

"No ransom will be paid," the minister told the lawmakers.

Seven truck drivers -- including three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian -- Friday completed one month in captivity. A group called Islamic Secret Army - Holders of Black Banners, abducted them July 21.

Ahamed said that New Delhi would press the Kuwaiti employer of the truck drivers to continue negotiations with the abductors to secure safe release of the captives.

The minister said that Kenya and Egypt also agreed not to hold direct negotiations with the terrorists.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the concerned lawmakers not to push his government to give details of the unfortunate incident, as it would not serve any purpose.

He said the government was following the situation very closely.

India has sent top diplomats to Baghdad to assist Kuwait Gulf Link Transport Co. in holding negotiations with the abductors to secure release of the hostages.

The trucking company has been engaged in negotiation with the abductors through a mediator, but very few details have been released. News reports say that the company has agreed to shut its shop in Iraq and has also paid ransom.

Meanwhile, the fate of the seven truck drivers hangs in balance with the now-on now-off negotiations for their release.

The kidnappers have repeatedly extended the deadline to slaughter the captives if their demands are not met, which includes the Kuwaiti employer pulling out of Iraq and compensation for the families of 250 victims of U.S. raids on Falujah.

None of three nations - India, Kenya and Egypt- has military presence as part of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. All three nations have promised not to send any troops to Iraq either.

More than 75 foreigners have been kidnapped by a myriad of Islamic rebel outfits in a campaign to push out international troops and companies hired to support U.S. troops in Iraq. At least eight hostages have been killed.

The Philippines withdrew its troops from Iraq in July to save the life of a Filipino hostage. Washington condemned Manila's move, saying this would lead to more kidnappings.

On Thursday, a television channel in Turkey aired footage of a Turkish hostage in Iraq who said his captors threatened to kill him if two Turkish companies did not quit the country within 72 hours.

Indian authorities, under tremendous pressure from the families of the three captives, have been using back-door channels to communicate with the abductors.

The family of one of the captives, Antryami, is on a fast unto death for the last four days to pressure the government to step up efforts.

New Delhi has banned Indians from taking up work in Iraq. Efforts also are being made to ask other Indian workers in Iraq to leave the war-battered nation.

India says the three Indian hostages in Iraq were safe.

"We have been informed by our embassy that they have all the information from KGL that the hostages are very safe and well looked after," NDTV quoted Ahamed as saying.

India has also invoked its traditional warm ties with neighboring Arab nations to establish a channel of communication with the abductors.

India has remained distanced from the U.S.-led war on Iraq, saying the action lacked the United Nations mandate. New Delhi has also turned down Washington's requests to send its troops to Iraq.

India, home to world's second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia, has maintained close relations with Baghdad, including during the U.N. sanctions era of Saddam Hussein.

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