July 23: The Indian government today moved to meet the demands of the militant group holding three Indians hostage in Iraq, but the Holders of the Black Banner upped the ante.
Issuing a new 48-hour deadline to the hostages’ employer, a Kuwaiti company, the group released a fresh set of demands.
“They gave a Kuwaiti company 48 hours to answer demands for the hostages’ release. They said the company must pay compensation to the families of the dead in Falluja and Iraqi prisoners in American and Kuwait jails should be released,” Al Jazeera television said.
It said it had received a videotape from the group.
US strikes on Falluja over the last month have killed about 40 people.
Earlier in the day, the Indian government announced that it had stopped issuing no-objection certificates that allow Indians to go into Iraq. It also advised Indian workers against entering Iraq. The Indian embassy in Kuwait had resumed issuing emigration clearance to Indians for Iraq some four weeks ago.
The militant group that kidnapped the three Indians, along with three Kenyans and an Egyptian, had first demanded that the governments of the three countries withdraw all their citizens from Iraq.
Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Company, which employs the seven truck drivers, said while it was in talks to secure their release, it would not meet demands to quit the country.
“We will not withdraw operations from Iraq. Our company will continue, but there are negotiations at high levels with diplomatic and security involvement,” it said. The kidnappers had earlier threatened to start beheading the drivers from Saturday unless the company pulled out.
In a fresh abduction today, an Egyptian diplomat was taken hostage in Baghdad.
India has not stopped at ceasing to issue no-objection certificates. Delhi has given instructions to its missions in Iraq and other Gulf countries to help Indians working there to leave.
The minister of state for external affairs, E. Ahmed, said the government’s decisions had been widely publicised, by Indian missions in Kuwait and Jordan, among local employers and their Indian employees to prevent forced deployment of Indians working in neighbouring countries in Iraq.
Over 5,000 Indians are said to be in Iraq.
Although the Kuwaiti company rejected the militants’ demand for pulling out of the country, it is negotiating independently with the group. The seven truck drivers were apparently carrying food for private suppliers — and not for Americans — in Iraq. These suppliers are reported to be mediating for the company, though all the food was looted after the drivers’ capture.