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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Freed Romanian hostages back home
Sorin Dimitru Miscoci
Sorin Dimitru Miscoci receives a floral welcome home
Three Romanian journalists freed on Sunday after being held hostage in Iraq have arrived home to Bucharest.

Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian were abducted in a Baghdad suburb in March.

The three, who appeared in good health, were greeted by family, friends and the Romanian President Traian Basescu.

The kidnappers, who also freed the hostages' Iraqi guide, had initially threatened to kill them unless 800 Romanian troops were pulled from Iraq.

The Romanian government said it would not negotiate its foreign policy nor pay a ransom.

Investigation

On Sunday, in a tape broadcast on al-Jazeera television, the group which said it had held the hostages explained that it freed them after an appeal by Romania's Muslims and a Saudi preacher.

Mr Basescu thanked Romania's Muslims, Romanian intelligence services and Iraqi investigators for helping to secure the hostages' freedom.

Missing Romanians Ohanesian (left), Ion and Miscoci
The three were seized during a visit to Iraq by the Romanian president
According to AP, he said more details about their release would be available after an investigation into the kidnapping was complete.

The four were seized on 28 March during a visit by President Basescu to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many foreigners have been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents - several have been killed. Iraqis are also frequently targeted, taken hostage by both criminal and insurgent gangs.

Jubilation

Many vigils were held for the journalists during their period of captivity.

The release was greeted with jubilation by family and friends. "It's over. The nightmare has ended," said Petre Mihai Bacanu, managing director of Romania Libera - the newspaper employing Mr Ohanesian.

I feel like a piece of me that was missing has now been restored
Vasile Ion
Hostage's father

Ms Ion's father, Vasile, a senator with the opposition Social Democratic Party, said he had never lost hope.

"I feel like a piece of me that was missing has now been restored," he told radio Europa FM.

Several videos have been released of the trio over the last two months, showing them in relatively comfortable surroundings, but later handcuffed and visibly distressed.

Initial reports of large sums demanded as a ransom changed over time to a demand that Romania withdraw its troops from Iraq.




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