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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK
'Terrible dilemma' over hostages
Craig Bigley speaking on BBC News 24 on Tuesday
Mr Bigley's son Craig made a direct appeal to Tony Blair for help
The kidnapping of British engineer Ken Bigley has exposed the terrible pressure hostage-taking puts on the families and governments involved.

While Mr Bigley's family pleads with Prime Minister Tony Blair to negotiate with his captors, UK officials are forced to consider the wider picture.

Hostage takers hope public opinion will force the coalition forces to give way.

British leaders insist any concessions can only make the situation more dangerous for everyone on the ground in Iraq.

However other countries have shown some flexibility in dealing with hostage takers by negotiating with them or even agreeing to their demands to pull troops out of Iraq.

Blair accused

The UK authorities' position can, of course, be desperately difficult for any family involved to accept.

The Tawhid and Jihad group believed to be holding Mr Bigley, 62, has already executed one captive and is reported to have killed a second, after demanding the release of Iraqi women prisoners.

Mr Bigley's brother Paul, 54, has berated the government for not doing enough in an interview with the Middle East news network Al Jazeera's website.

Mr Bigley claimed he and his family had been "instructed" by the Foreign Office to keep silent about the capture.

The government cannot let its heart rule its head
Professor Paul Wilkinson
St Andrew's University

He accused Mr Blair of "only going through the diplomatic instruction book" in his efforts to free his brother.

The prime minister is believed to have spoken to the family to explain there are "limitations" to what the government can do.

Terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson, of St Andrew's University, said a "bad precedent" would be set if officials gave in to kidnappers' demands.

He told BBC News Online: "They would feel like it was a worthwhile effort - and the more hostages they could take, military and civilians, the more concessions they could wrench from the authorities."

Ken Bigley on a video released by his captors
Ken Bigley's kidnappers demand the release of women prisoners

Mr Blair has insisted the UK will "stand firm" in the face of the insecurity and bloodshed plaguing Iraq.

Prof Wilkinson said the prime minister would have to resist any calls to break ranks with his coalition partners and "barter" for Mr Bigley's life.

"The government cannot let its heart rule its head," he said. "It has to think about the well-being of all the civilians there and all the coalition personnel from the forces.

"There are thousands of people whose lives are affected by this, not just the British."

Troop withdrawal

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said Mr Blair was under "intense pressure" but there was little he could do except hope forces on the ground would snatch Mr Bigley to safety.

Conservative MP Tim Collins, a member of the shadow cabinet, backed Mr Blair's hard choice.

He said: "This is a terrible dilemma. We all feel so much for the family but unfortunately the government are quite right.

The armed forces should step in to help protect these guys in their living and working environments
Darren, Isle of Man, UK

"If we give in to this particular instance of hostage-taking, more hostages will be taken and more families will suffer. Sadly, there can be no negotiation."

But not every country has reacted in the same way - in July, the Philippines withdrew its 51 troops from Iraq a month early to secure the release of kidnapped truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

And while Italy has refused to pull out its 3,000-strong force in Iraq to secure the freedom of two kidnapped aid workers, it has sent an envoy and its foreign minister to the region to work for their release.

Earlier this month, France said that a visit by Iraqi President Ghazi Yawer had been postponed because of "circumstances linked to" two French journalists held hostage.

Rescue effort

Prof Wilkinson said British and Iraqi officials would be doing everything they could to locate Mr Bigley for a rescue operation.

"It does require good local help and intelligence knowledge and that may be forthcoming," he said.

"It's an effort that has to be made all-out to try to rescue these people. It's not hopeless until we know the hostage takers have taken the lives of their hostages."

He rejected the idea that the media in some ways helped the kidnappers by generating publicity, saying a free press was the sign of a healthy society.

Militant groups will carry on taking hostages "as long as they are able to operate with relative impunity in Iraq", Prof Wilkinson added.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"Recently they've been getting bolder, seizing people from their homes in broad daylight"

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