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Hostage crisis: Indian ambassador to Oman reaching Baghdad
July 31, 2004 13:33 IST
Last Updated: July 31, 2004 22:57 IST
Efforts to seek release of three abducted Indians -- Antaryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh -- intensified on Saturday with the government sending a senior diplomat to Baghdad, Iraq.
Meanwhile, the nominee of the hostages' employer -- Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company -- started direct talks with Sheikh Hisham al-Dulaimi, the abductors' negotiator.
Concerned over the security situation in Iraq, the government was also working on contingency plans to evacuate about 6,000 Indians from the war-ravaged country, if necessary.
"We have been informed that Mahdi Saleh has been officially authorised by the KGL company to negotiate on its behalf with Dulaimi, chairman of the National League and Iraqi Tribes Members," Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamad said after a marathon meeting of the Crisis Management Group in New Delhi.
Saleh was reportedly already in Iraq and talking to Dulaimi, he said, adding the venue of the talks was not known.
Asked about reports that Dulaimi had threatened to pull out of the negotiations, the minister said, "The latest information I have received only five minutes back from Baghdad and Kuwait is that the talks are going on."
Asked whether there was any word on further extension of the deadline of 2030 IST, Saturday, given by the abductors, Ahamad said, "Talks are going on. I have no other information. We are in constant contact."
As the government sent India's Ambassador to Oman Talmiz Ahmad to Baghdad to assist in handling the issue, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee convened an hour-long meeting with Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi and other officials.
The security of Indian diplomats and other staff in Baghdad was said to have been discussed in the meeting.
Ahamed said the Indian diplomat would evaluate the developments and give regular inputs to the government.
Families of the hostages had been apprised and assured that the government was monitoring the situation on a continuous basis, he said.
"We are hopeful that the crisis will come to a successful and satisfactory conclusion," he said.
Ahamed said both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh were being informed.
A group called the Holders of Black Banners took hostage the three Indians on July 21. They also abducted three Kenyans and one Egyptian.