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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 17:46 GMT
Joy at Canadian hostages' release
Harmeet Singh Sooden (L) and James Loney
Sooden (L) and Loney, who said sorry to his family for the ordeal
The families of the two Canadian peace activists held hostage for almost four months in Iraq have expressed joy at their release.

James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, were released along with Briton Norman Kember, 74, in a military operation by multinational forces.

Mr Loney's brother, Ed, told Canada's CBC television from Vancouver: "We're really happy that this is resolved peacefully and we can look forward to seeing our brother and our son and our uncle in a few short days."

Ed Loney said his freed brother "sounded fantastic" when he telephoned their mother in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario - and had apologised for putting the family through such an ordeal.

"He told them that he was well and that he was concerned about us and the family and other people who were worried, which is pretty typical of Jim, to put others first," he said.

'Big hug'

His parents issued a short statement saying: "What a joyful day this is. We have just learned that James is coming home... We would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers."

It is tempered for all of us by the loss of Tom Fox
Doug Pritchard
Christian Peacemaker Teams

But they added: "At this time we would also like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Tom Fox."

Mr Fox, an American citizen, was kidnapped at the same time but was found dead in Baghdad two weeks ago.

Mr Sooden's father, Dalip Singh Sooden, said he had talked to his son.

"It's like it's unbelievable. I just don't remember what I said to him and what he said to me," he said.

"I've seen him on video and he looked like he's probably lost 10kg or something, but it was traumatic today, it was good. I still can't believe it."

Mark Brewer, the brother-in-law of Mr Sooden, said from his home in Auckland, New Zealand, that relatives were planning to go to Baghdad to bring him home.

"We're just looking forward to getting hold of him, giving him a big hug and bringing him back home to his family," Mr Brewer said.

He told TV One News in New Zealand the ordeal had been "excruciating", particularly since the death of Mr Fox.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had spoken to the two hostages. He said their release was wonderful news and thanked British and US authorities for their help.

Doug Pritchard, co-director of US and Canada-based peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams, for whom the men had been working, expressed joy at the release.

But he added: "It is tempered for all of us by the loss of Tom Fox. We had hoped for a joyful reunion of all four of our men with their families and so today is somewhat bittersweet."

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