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Time ticking away for hostages

July 23, 2004 23:20 IST

As the 72-hour-deadline given by the captors of the three Indians in Iraq approached, the government on Friday described the situation as 'serious' and said it was doing everything possible to secure their safe release.

"We have been given to understand that the hostages are unharmed and safe," Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamad, who is heading the Crisis Management Group dealing with the situation, told reporters in Delhi.

The Kuwaiti transport company for which the Indians - Antaryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh - were working also assured that it would do 'everything necessary' to ensure the release of the hostages who also included three Egyptians and a Kenyan.

As part of these efforts, the government is in contact with friendly countries of the region and the Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Company.

The abductors had threatened to start killing a hostage every 72 hours if the Kuwaiti company does not pull out of Iraq. The 72-hours-deadline expires at 8pm Saturday. The company is reportedly considering operating its trucks only up to the Kuwaiti border.

"In view of the prevailing security situation there, the government has suspended emigration clearance for workers for Iraq and has also advised Indian workers against going to Iraq," Singh said. However, pilgrims wishing to visit holy shrines in Iraq would be allowed to do so.

The government had given clear instructions to its missions in the Gulf countries and particularly in Iraq to extend all possible assistance to workers interested in returning to India to facilitate their safe return.

It has approached Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait seeking their intervention to secure the release the three Indians.

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Meanwhile, Antaryami's father Ram Murthy, rushed to Delhi to meet top government leaders and appealed that all steps be taken to save his son's life.

Alleging that only a junior state government official has met the family so far, Murthy, who came all the way from Una in Himachal Pradesh, urged the government to fulfill all the demands of the captors and ensure the safe return of his son.

"Neither any politician, including the chief minister, nor representative of the company for which my son works have got in touch with us so far. We are solely dependant on the media for all information," he told reporters in Delhi.

The official informed Antaryami's family that Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to save the hostages.

Murthy, who was accompanied by some neighbours of another hostage Tilak Raj, also hailing from Una, said they planned to meet both the prime minister and the President.

VHP senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore, who was present on the occasion, urged all international human rights and amnesty groups to secure the release of the hostages.

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