Friday, January 21, 2005

China seeks hostage release

Iraqi interim government Deputy President Rowsch Nuri Shaways said during a meeting with Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong on Thursday that he regrets the abduction of eight Chinese citizens by militants in his country.

Shaways, on a previously scheduled visit to China, said that the Iraqi people and government have strongly condemned the militants for holding the Chinese from Fujian Province.

Zeng stressed that China's leaders consider resolving the situation a matter of great importance, and said the government and people hope the Iraqi government will use all possible means to assure the safety of the hostages and help reunite them with their families.

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), expressed similar wishes in a meeting with Shaways.

Shaways, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, is one of two deputy presidents of the interim government of Iraq, which is preparing for national elections on January 30. He arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a five-day working visit.

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said the government is working day and night on the hostage issue. "Every hour, we are in contact with our embassy in Baghdad," he stated.

In Iraq, the Chinese Embassy is in constant touch with the Iraq Muslim Presbytery, which assisted in securing the release of seven Chinese hostages last April.

Chinese officials also visited the presbytery's chairman, Harih Al-Dhari, requesting his assistance in locating the hostages and appealing to the kidnappers for their release.

The kidnappers have demanded the Chinese government clarify its position on Iraq as a condition for the hostages' freedom.

Arab TV stations and websites on Wednesday broadcast the stance of the Chinese government on Iraq and its people after a press conference held by Chinese Ambassador Yang Honglin on Tuesday evening.

The pan-Arab al-Jazeera TV channel, which showed a videotape of the eight Chinese flanked by masked gunmen, also aired an interview with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said on Thursday that there was nothing new to report on the status of the hostages, but reiterated that all government departments were doing their utmost to secure their release.

(China Daily, January 21, 2005)