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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK
German hostages released in Iraq
Rene Braeunlich (left) and Thomas Nitzschke
The two men were held for more than three months
Two German engineers held hostage in Iraq for more than three months have been freed, reports say.

Germany's foreign minister said Thomas Nitzschke, 28, and Rene Braeunlich, 32, seized in January near an oil refinery in northern Iraq, were now safe.

They were last seen making a desperate appeal for help in an internet video message released at the start of April.

Dozens of foreigners are being held in Iraq, plus hundreds of Iraqis seized by insurgents and criminal gangs.

"I am very pleased to announce that Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich, of Leipzig, as of today are free men again," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

I would like to thank the families and all those people in Leipzig who refused to forget about the hostages
Angela Merkel
German chancellor
"After spending more than three months under inhumane conditions they are in German care," Mr Steinmeier said while on a visit to Chile.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also welcomed their release, and thanked those who have held candlelit vigils in Leipzig, eastern Germany.

"I would like to thank the families and all those people in Leipzig who refused to forget about the hostages," she said.

The men remain in Iraq and are expected to return to Germany on Wednesday, officials said.

Demands

The men were kidnapped on 24 January near Baiji, 180km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, by a group called Ansar al-Tawheed wa al-Sunna.

Germany's foreign ministry insisted it would not provide any further details of the pair's release.

Their captors had demanded that the German government end its involvement in Iraq, threatening to kill the men unless their demands were met.

There were also demands to release all Iraqi prisoners held by US forces.

Several videos of the hostages were released during their time in captivity.

In December German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff was freed after three weeks in captivity. Rumours have persisted that the German government paid a substantial ransom for her release.


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See the vigils held in Leipzig for the men's release



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