India: Iraqis know where seized workers are held

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Relatives of Indian workers who were taken hostage in Iraq pose with photographs of their loved ones at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Thursday.

Relatives of Indian workers who were taken hostage in Iraq pose with photographs of their loved ones at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Thursday.

NEW DELHI: The Iraqi government has determined where 40 Indian construction workers abducted near Mosul are being held captive with workers of a few other nationalities, an official said Thursday.

Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesman for India’s External Affairs Ministry, declined to say more on the location or possible future action. No ransom has been demanded, he said. India’s new government is struggling to make headway in its first foreign crisis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already dispatched a former ambassador to Baghdad to coordinate rescue efforts while the chief minister of Punjab province — where most of the workers hail from — has said he is willing to pay a ransom to gain their freedom.

But while India’s Foreign Ministry has described the men as having been “kidnapped,” it says it does not know who has taken them hostage and that it has not received any ransom demand.

The ministry said Thursday it has learned the location of the workers and was pursuing “every avenue” in a “tenuous security situation.”

“In situations where there exist no single authority, where there exists no established interlocutors, we are trying to do our best in the circumstances,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters.

The ministry was working with aid agencies in Iraq including the Red Crescent Society which said the workers had been taken away by armed men while they were working on a stadium in Mosul. But the exact identity of their captors was not known.

“We don’t know what happened to them,” Iraqi Red Crescent president Yaseen Ahmed Abbas told AFP by phone from Baghdad.

“It is difficult to talk to the insurgents, there is no official who we can talk to.”

Underlining the confusion, some of the family members told Indian media they had spoken to several of the workers who denied they were being “held hostage.”

Charanjit Singh said he spoke for several minutes on Wednesday to his brother whose captors have claimed they would eventually be released.

“He said he and his co-workers from India were all safe and not held hostage,” Singh told The Hindu newspaper.

While India has a record of evacuating large numbers of its nationals from war zones, including from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and from Lebanon in 2007, analysts say the situation this time is complicated by a variety of factors.

Also on Thursday, the Philippine government ordered its nationals in Iraq to flee the country but said those in Kurdistan could remain.

“Due to the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” the department raised “Alert Level 4” calling for the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in areas of Iraq affected by the fighting.

Under this alert level, the government will arrange and pay for their evacuation.
However the alert does not cover Filipinos working in Iraqi Kurdistan which “remains relatively calm and stable,” the statement added.

The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad and a special team dispatched to Iraq would be helping Filipinos leave the affected areas.

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