The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hostages live on last chance
- Mediator sets up meeting today

July 30: The 20.30 deadline passed this evening without a word from the kidnappers who had threatened to kill one of their seven hostages as a mediator expressed hope of a “positive outcome” in talks expected tomorrow.

An Iraqi tribal sheikh trying to win the release of the hostages, three of them Indians, said he would meet a representative from their employer, a Kuwaiti company, tomorrow.

Hisham al-Dulami said the kidnappers were not aware of the planned meeting when they set the deadline to kill one of the hostages if they received no response to their demands.

After the deadline had passed, the kidnappers, the Holders of the Black Banner, said they had given time till 20.30 hours tomorrow. “At the request of the mediator, we have decided to give a last chance to the Kuwaiti company and the relevant countries to save their employees and nationals,” the group said.

Earlier, Dulami had said: “I expect a positive outcome and that we will reach an agreement.” One issue to be discussed would be financial compensation for families in Falluja who had lost relatives in US air strikes on the rebellious city, he added.

“The negotiations are going on and tomorrow we will meet the company regarding the issue of releasing the seven hostages, so I call on them (the kidnappers) to be patient and to give me a chance to reach an outcome that will serve both sides.”

In a videotape yesterday, a masked kidnapper had held a rifle to the head of Antaryami, one of the Indian hostages, while announcing the deadline.

The Indian government said it had seen reports of the deadline having been extended. “We have seen the statement made by Sheikh Dulami and we appreciate the efforts he is making,” a government statement said.

It described as “a welcome and hopeful development” the scheduled meeting between Dulami and the employer of the seven truckers, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company.

A senior official familiar with the “region and language” is being sent to the embassy in Baghdad to assist in the negotiations, the statement issued after a meeting of the crisis management group set up to deal with the hostage crisis said.

The group also decided that Indian nationals would not be allowed to travel to Iraq through Kuwait and Jordan. Passports would be stamped with “not valid for travel to Iraq”.

Travelling in Bangkok, external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh said India was dealing with the crisis on “an hour to hour basis”.

He added that the situation in Iraq was “far from stable” and much depended on India handling the crisis with patience and tenacity. Singh said the Kuwait company had confirmed that it had established contact with Dulami.

A spokeswoman for Kuwait and Gulf Link said the firm was sending an official to negotiate with the captors and understood that the deadline had been pushed back.

In Una, the home of Antaryami, hundreds of men armed with iron rods blocked traffic in protest against the government’s failure to win the release of the hostages.

There were reports of local people mounting a kidnapping bid on foreign tourists but police denied any such attempt. A group of about 35 tourists returning from Dharamsala to Delhi were stuck in the blockade and had to be escorted out of the district by the police.

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