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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Seven new hostages seized in Iraq
Video image of Japanese hostages
The hostages' ordeal has shocked Japan
The hostage crisis in Iraq has widened, with seven Chinese being seized on the road from Jordan to Baghdad.

The latest kidnappings follow the seizure of three Japanese citizens whose fate remains unknown.

Despite the hostage-taking, a ceasefire in the Iraqi flashpoint town of Falluja seems to be holding after 24 hours.

US Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt said marines remained ready for the "complete destruction of enemy forces" but a political solution was being sought.

The tentative truce between American-led forces and insurgents has brought a pause to nearly a week of intense fighting.

Photos and profiles of the freed Japanese hostages

Local hospital officials say the violence has left more than 600 Iraqis, most of them civilians, dead. The US military says almost all the casualties were fighters.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Baghdad says residents of Falluja are using the break in the fighting to bury their dead and flee the town.

As the ceasefire was due to expire at 0600 GMT on Monday, there were reports from the AFP news agency that it had been extended to allow more talks.

Elsewhere, three marines were killed on Sunday in al-Anbar province west of Baghdad, the US military said.

In another incident, the two-man crew of an American AH-64 Apache gunship died when insurgents shot down their aircraft near the town of Abu Ghraib.

Gen Kimmitt, the coalition's deputy director of operations, said in a news briefing on Monday that about 70 members of coalition forces had been killed in Iraq since 1 April, while enemy casualties were 10 times that number.

He said there were no reliable figures for civilian casualties.

More foreigners seized

It is not clear what the seven Chinese men detained late on Sunday were doing in Iraq. Chinese sources say they did not work for the government.

Nabil George Razuq, 30, Palestinian aid worker
Fadi Ihsan Fadel, 33, Canadian aid worker
Thomas Hamill, 43, US civilian worker

Chinese media report that the 10 Chinese companies doing business in Iraq have about 40 employees there.

But the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that, until now, China appeared to be the country least likely to have citizens kidnapped in Iraq.

Beijing opposed the war and has no troops in the country.

Japan, on the other hand, has 550 troops in Iraq, carrying out humanitarian work, and the kidnappers have demanded that the soldiers be withdrawn.

Hopes of a speedy resolution to the Japanese hostage crisis were dashed when reports that the three would be freed on Sunday turned out to be untrue.

Japan had been optimistic over their fate but is now in despair, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Tokyo says.


The kidnappings have overshadowed the visit of US Vice President Dick Cheney to East Asia.

His nearly two-hour meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday was dominated by the hostage crisis.

"We wholeheartedly support the position the prime minister has taken with respect to the question of the Japanese hostages," Mr Cheney told reporters afterwards.

"We have consulted closely with the prime minister and his government to make certain we do everything we can to be of assistance."
US Vice President Dick Cheney meets Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Japan
Mr Cheney praised Mr Koizumi's handling of the hostage crisis

Mr Koizumi is under extreme domestic pressure, having defied public opinion to send Japanese troops to Iraq.

But our Tokyo correspondent says there is little likelihood that Japan will bow to the kidnappers' demand to withdraw the troops.

Mr Cheney is due to visit Beijing on Tuesday, and Seoul later in the week. South Korea has also had citizens kidnapped in Iraq, although they have since been freed.

Meanwhile, the deadline given by kidnappers of US civilian Thomas Hamill, who threatened to kill him unless US troops ended the Falluja operation, passed with no indication of his fate.

Earlier, Australian TV showed pictures of Mr Hamill taken hostage by fighters outside Baghdad after an attack on a convoy taking fuel to US troops.

British civilian Gary Teeley, who was kidnapped in the southern city of Nasiriya a week ago, has been handed over to coalition forces there and is safe and well, the Foreign Office in London said.

Al-Jazeera television also reported that eight foreign lorry drivers taken hostage had been released on Sunday after Muslim clerics called for all kidnapped civilians to be freed.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"China has now ordered all its citizens to stay out of Iraq"

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