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Iraq Civilian hostages must be released


Iraq: Civilian hostages must be released immediately

Amnesty International is concerned about the fate of several foreign nationals held hostage in Iraq. The organization appeals to armed groups in Iraq to end the practice of hostage taking and immediately release all hostages.

"By holding civilians hostage under threat of death, armed groups in Iraq are violating a fundamental rule of international humanitarian law," said Amnesty International.

Last week, many foreign nationals, including journalists, aid workers and civilian contractors were abducted by armed groups in Iraq. Three Japanese nationals, Noriaki Imai and Nahoko Takato, both aid workers aged 18 and 34, respectively, as well as 32-year-old photographer Soichiro Koriyama, have been held since last Thursday and their whereabouts remain unknown. The armed group holding them, "the Mujahedeen Brigades" has threatened to kill them if Japan does not withdraw its troops from Iraq. The group gave an initial ultimatum of three days which was extended until late yesterday.

The ultimatum has now expired and Amnesty International fears for the safety of the three people.

Three Czech journalists, Petr Klima, Michal Kubal and Vit Pohanka, were abducted by armed men on 11 April when they were travelling by taxi from Baghdad to Amman and their whereabouts are unknown. There are at least 24 people who have been abducted and their fate and whereabouts remain unknown. These include an Israeli Arab, a Canadian of Syrian origin, five Ukrainians, three Russians and others from different nationalities. A number of other foreign nationals, including Chinese and South Koreans, were kidnapped and then released.

"No cause can justify taking hostages or deliberately killing civilians," Amnesty International said.

Background

Over the last 10 days, intensified fighting between Coalition forces and armed groups and individuals opposed to occupation has led to the deaths of hundreds of people in cities including Baghdad, Falluja, Ramadi, 'Amara, Karbala, Kut, and Nassirya. Over 60 Coalition soldiers have been killed. At least 600 people, including scores of women and children, have reportedly been killed in Falluja.

Since 4 April there have been many clashes between Coalition forces and armed individuals belonging to the "Mahdi Army", followers of radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in the predominantly Shi'a districts of Baghdad, as well as southern cities including 'Amara, Kut, Karbala, Nassirya, and Basra. US troops on 4 April bombed a compound housing a mosque in Falluja from which they claim armed men were firing at US forces. Some reports say that about 40 Iraqis were killed although the US military claim there were no civilian casualties. Other reported incidents include the shooting and killing of eight demonstrators by Coalition forces in al-Huwayja yesterday, and the killing of 25 people in Falluja on Tuesday night when a house was hit by a missile fired by a US helicopter.

The clashes involving the "Mahdi Army" were prompted by the closure of the "al-Hawza al-Natiqa" newspaper earlier this month, mouthpiece of Muqtada al-Sadr's group, and the arrest of one of his closest allies, Mustafa al-Ya'qubi, on charges relating to the April 2003 assassination in al-Najaf of well-known Shi'a cleric 'Abd al-Majid al-Khoei. The newspaper was closed down by order of Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, on the grounds that it was inciting violence.

The US military launched major operations in Ramadi and Falluja following the killing, burning and mutilation of four US private security guards by insurgents last week.

Iraq: one year on - Read more in the Wire, April 2004, http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maab8TQaa5001bb0hPub/

People come first - Protect Human Rights Iraq Crisis home page: http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maab8TQaa5002bb0hPub/

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