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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 13:35 GMT
French nationals killed in Iraq
US soldiers in Falluja
Falluja has been a hotbed of unrest
Two French nationals have been shot dead in northern Iraq, the French foreign ministry has said.

The pair were killed in the town of Falluja, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital Baghdad, a Foreign Ministry spokesman is quoted as saying.

A third French national was wounded in the drive-by shooting, spokesman Herve Ladsous said, quoted by AFP.

The killings mark the first French deaths in Iraq since the US-led war was launched in March last year.

The three were reported to be working for a US company involved in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure following the war.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the deaths underline the difficulty of reconstructing a country in such a precarious environment.

Fragile security

AFP quoted diplomats as saying the group were shot at by a passing vehicle after the car they were travelling in broke down.

Mr Ladsous said the contractors were not registered with French consular services in Iraq.

"These tragic events lead us to recall, as posted on the foreign ministry's website, that it is urgent that all French nationals currently in Iraq make themselves known to our consular authorities and to the French interests section," he said.

Our correspondent says foreigners in Iraq now tend to move around with tight security.

But, she says, the dangers of working in Iraq have deterred many businesspeople and potential investors who could help resurrect the country's economy.

France was one of the leading opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq and has not sent any troops to join other foreign forces in Iraq since the end of the war there last May.

Falluja is in the so-called Sunni triangle area, where support for ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein remains strong.

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