The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Delicate’ tag on Iraq talks
- Negotiations to secure hostages’ release continue, minister urges caution

Aug. 2: Seeking to temper emotions after a day of high expectations that ended in deep despair, India said this evening that talks to free three hostages in Iraq were at a delicate stage and releasing details of negotiations could jeopardise the situation.

“We are at a sensitive and delicate stage of the evolution of the crisis. Narrating details of the nature of our efforts in public can jeopardise the very results we have to achieve,” junior foreign minister E. Ahmed said.

Kuwait and Gulf Link Transportation Company (KGL), which has employed the three Indians, said it had met all the demands of the abductors and was awaiting their response. The kidnappers have demanded that the transport company pull out of Iraq and pay compensation to Fallujah victims of American air strikes.

Earlier, Ahmed said Delhi was optimistic about the early release of the hostages, among seven people kidnapped 12 days ago by militants, as negotiations resumed to free them.

But later in the day, Ahmed urged caution. “The very nature of this crisis demands careful circumspection on our part collectively... and we must treat changing developments with caution and calm.”

Celebrations in the three hostages’ homes in India over the weekend turned out to be premature after the government, the Kuwaiti company they worked for and the chief mediator all denied reports that they had been freed.

In Himachal Pradesh’s Una, from where two of the three hostages hail, residents said they are awaiting word from the government.

“We are expecting a phone call from government officials who promised today that good news can come by the end of the day or late in the evening. We do not bother about the conflicting reports which has actually doubled our hope,” said a villager.

A chilling element was added to the crisis with Islamist websites showing a videotape of the killing of a Turkish hostage in Iraq by a group linked to al Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The tape showed a masked man shooting the hostage while he was seated in a chair. When he fell to the ground, the gunman shot him twice more with a pistol while shouting “God is greatest”.

In Delhi, Ahmed denied reports that talks between the Kuwaiti transport firm that had hired the drivers and Sheik Hisham al-Dulami, the main mediator, had broken off. “The process is on,” he said.

“We have been informed through our embassies in Baghdad and Kuwait that contact has been maintained between Sheikh Hisham al-Dulami and KGL Company and negotiations are continuing this morning,” he said.

Dulami was yesterday quoted as having stated that he was pulling out of the negotiations as he had failed to reach an agreement with KGL.

“We remain hopeful that these negotiations will come to a successful conclusion but we have to remain patient. The government is continuing with all its efforts to seek the early release of the hostages and their safe return. The outlook remains positive,” Ahmed said.

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