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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Iraq kidnappings stun Kenya press
Photograph of militants with their six hostages provided by the group
Kenyan papers urge the government to negotiate with the kidnappers

The capture of three Kenyan hostages in Iraq has bewildered newspapers back home, who demand to know why the insurgents have picked on a country that refused to join the US-led invasion.

"Spare Kenyans, we were not in the war," the East African Standard cries in a headline, and says Iraq is now "scary" even for those not directly involved in the conflict.

"Kenya has no troops in the Gulf, and Kenya did not take sides in the war that saw the US and its allies invade Iraq," the paper argues.

The People's Daily says that, like the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, the kidnappings have unexpectedly put Kenya in the "the international spotlight".

"It is always a wonder why the country ever finds itself in the middle of international disputes be they to do with the war against terrorism or, as in the latest incident, the war in Iraq," the paper asks in an editorial.

Dialogue

Pointing out that Kenya was one of the first to condemn the decision to invade Iraq, the paper urges the government not to be shy of negotiating with the kidnappers.

"Kenya should initiate dialogue to save the lives of the hostages", it says, adding: "The Philippines yielded to similar demands to rescue its citizen Angelo de la Cruz, this week."

Kenya Times agrees. It acknowledges that giving in to the demands of "terrorists" could encourage them, but also compares Kenya's predicament with that of the Philippines over Mr de la Cruz.

"When these ruthless militants give conditions over the release of their hostages, the public tends to pile pressure on the governments of the hostages," it says.

"While we do not endorse the tactics being employed by these Iraqi militants, we feel strongly that the government should enter into dialogue with them. This will be a relief not only to the families but the whole country."

The East African Standard, however, is more cautious, saying that now is "not the time to begin debating on the merits or demerits of acceding to the militants' demands."

"Instead, it is time for the government and everybody else who has the ability to secure the release of the three Kenyan hostages as well as the rest to put every effort into releasing the same."

New trend?

In the Middle East itself, Lebanon's Al-Nahar thinks the kidnapping of the three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian - none of whom have troops in Iraq - is a worrying sign of increasing ferocity on the part of the Iraqi insurgents.

"They are now tens of those who want to follow the steps of those who are beheading crusaders, whether they are the heads of nationals from allied countries led by the US or of countries that are irrelevant like Kenya," it says

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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