Questions surround 7 truckers’ fate in Iraq

BANGKOK, Reuters

Kenya said on Sunday kidnappers in Iraq had released seven truck drivers, including three Kenyans, but the truckers’ company and a top Iraqi negotiator said the men remained captive.

“The (Kenyan Foreign Ministry) … has succeeded in the release of the three Kenyans,” Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere told a news conference in Nairobi.

He said the other hostages — three Indians and an Egyptian — had also been freed, and that all seven were at the Egyptian embassy in Baghdad.

But the Kuwaiti firm which employs the seven truckers said they were still being held hostage.

“They have not been released … We are still negotiating,” said Rana Abu Zaneih, a spokeswoman for the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company.

Hisham al-Dulaymi, chief Iraqi negotiator in the hostage standoff, said no deal had been struck with the kidnappers, the Black Banners brigade of the Islamic Secret Army, on the release of the seven truckers.

“They are not released, negotiations are still going on,” said Dulaymi. “There’s no way they could be released. On the contrary, there are some complications with the negotiations, but we’re still hopeful.”

India said it had received no confirmation the hostages had been freed.

“Neither our embassy in Baghdad nor our embassy in Kuwait have been able to confirm this,” junior Foreign Minister Edappakath Ahamed told reporters.

Besides the Kenyan statement, some media reports had also said the hostages had been released.

A growing wave of hostage-taking has hit Iraq since April as guerrillas wage a campaign to undermine U.S.-led forces and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s interim government.

Dozens of foreign hostages have been seized, most of them truck drivers working for foreign companies delivering supplies to U.S. forces or Iraqi companies.

At least eight hostages have been killed, four by beheading.