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Clark urges captors to release Sooden 29 January
Prime Minister Helen Clark says she's delighted that
New Zealand hostage Harmeet Sooden is still alive and
continues to urge his Iraqi captors to release him.
Mr Sooden, 32, a Canadian citizen who
lived and studied in New Zealand, was shown yesterday on a
video broadcast on Al Jazeera television along with three
other peace activists captured more than two months ago.
It was the first news of the hostages
since December 7, when their captors, the Swords of Truth
group, said they would be killed on December 10 unless Iraqi
prisoners in American and Iraqi prisons were released.
Al Jazeera reported Swords of Truth
saying that US-led forces had one last chance to free Iraqi
prisoners or they would kill the hostages.
Miss Clark said Mr Sooden's family would
be delighted that the video shown today, which was dated
January 21, showed that he and his colleagues were still
"Harmeet's family and the families of the
three other hostages with him have had a long and worrying
delay since they last heard news of their loved ones," Miss
"The New Zealand Government continues to
urge the captors of Harmeet and his friends to release them.
All four were on a peaceful mission to Iraq, and were
motivated purely by a desire to help the Iraqi people."
Mr Sooden, Briton Norman Kember, American
Tom Fox and Canadian James Loney were kidnapped on November 26
in Baghdad, where they were working with a Christian peace
organisation, Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The previously unknown Swords of Truth
had claimed the quartet were spies but friends and several
groups, both Muslim and Christian, have insisted they were
friends of the Iraqi people and against the American-led
presence in Iraq.
Several broadcasts have been played on Al
Jazeera pleading for their release.
Diplomatic efforts to free Mr Sooden have
been led by the Canadian government, which Miss Clark said New
Zealand was doing its best to support.
"Our government will continue to liaise
closely with the government of Canada and other governments to
support their efforts to secure the release of Harmeet and his
friends," she said.
The video broadcast on Al Jazeera
apparently showed the four hostages standing against a wall.
The grainy footage, shot in a dark room, was dated January 21.
The hostages appeared to be speaking to
the camera but their voices could not be heard.
"The group. . . said it was giving a last
chance for its demands to be met through the release of Iraqi
prisoners in American and Iraqi prisons in exchange for the
release of the four hostages," Al Jazeera reported.
Reverend Alan Betteridge, president of
the Baptist Peace Fellowship to which Mr Kember, 74, belongs,
said he was happy to see evidence the four were alive but
concerned over the threat.
"We're very sorry that they're still
talking in those violent terms after all the appeals from the
Muslim world and others for the release of these non-violent
peacemakers who were in Iraq for the benefit of justice and
peace in that land," Mr Betteridge, a close friend of Mr
In a message to the captors, Mr
Betteridge said: "Please release these four people, who are
there genuinely as non-violent peacemakers."
Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams
said: "We are so grateful and heartened to see James, Harmeet,
Norman and Tom alive on the video tape dated January 21. This
news is an answer to our prayers. We continue to hope and pray
for their release.
"We continue to believe that what has
happened to our team-mates is the result of the actions of the
US and UK governments in their illegal attack on Iraq and the
continuing occupation and oppression of its people. We
continue to call for justice and human rights for all who are
detained in Iraq."
Muslim scholars and activists from around
the world, including leaders of the militant Hamas and
Hizbollah groups, have appealed for the release of the aid
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