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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 January, 2005, 09:51 GMT
Chinese hostages released in Iraq
Chinese hostages, on video carried by al-Jazeera (18/1/05)
The hostages were paraded on video by their captors
Iraqi insurgents who were holding eight Chinese labourers hostage in Iraq have released the men.

China's official Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese embassy in Baghdad as confirming their release.

The militant group holding the men had threatened to kill them if China failed to clarify its position on Iraq.

It reportedly said in a videotape that the hostages were being freed after China said it had advised its citizens not to travel to Iraq.

According to the Associated Press news agency, the tape showed each of the Chinese men shaking hands with a masked insurgent.

"The Islamic Resistance Movement, al-Numan Battalion, has decided to release the eight citizens as a goodwill gesture for the friendship between the two countries of Iraq and China," the militant said on the tape.

"They were not harmed during the period they were held and also they weren't exchanged for any amount of money," the rebel added.

On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry said it had repeatedly warned its citizens to stay out of Iraq.

"What I want to stress is that the Chinese government has previously issued warnings on many occasions to its citizens, requesting them not to travel to Iraq," spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement.

'Trafficked'

The former hostages are reported to have been handed over to a Sunni Muslim group, Islamic Scholars' Association, which acted as a mediator.

The insurgent group had accused the men of building American facilities in Iraq, something the Chinese government denied.

The Islamic Scholars' Association also helped secure the freedom of seven Chinese citizens kidnapped in Iraq last year.

Both groups of hostages came from southern Fujian province, and Chinese state media have speculated they had paid human traffickers for their passage to Iraq.

The abductions caused shock among many Chinese, who believed Beijing's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq should have guaranteed their nationals' safety in the country.


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