Indonesian journalists freed in Iraq - report

A video delivered to an international news organisation has apparently shown the release of two Indonesian journalists who were kidnapped in the volatile Iraqi city of Ramadi last week.

A video delivered to an international news organisation has apparently shown the release of two Indonesian journalists who were kidnapped in the volatile Iraqi city of Ramadi last week.

The video and still photos delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News showed the two shaking hands with a militant who read a statement announcing they were being freed. It was not possible to determine when the video was made and the hostages’ release could not be independently confirmed.

An Iraqi official at the Indonesian Embassy in Baghdad said he had no word on their fate. “So far we have not seen them yet,” said the official.

The pair, working for the Indonesian cable network Metro TV, went missing last Tuesday after being stopped by unidentified men in military uniforms in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

“For reasons of suspicion, these two journalists were arrested,” the masked militant said, reading from a notebook. “Based on the goodwill they showed, and respecting the feelings of brotherhood and Islam between the two countries, and respecting the Indonesian anti-occupation role, we decided to release the two journalists without any conditions or ransom.”

The Jakarta government was critical of the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, and has refused to send troops to the country.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry welcomed the news of the apparent release.

“That’s great, wonderful,” said spokesman Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta. “We were on an emotional roller-coaster waiting for that news.”

The two journalists are 26-year-old Meutya Viada Hafid and Budiyanto, 36, a cameraman who, as is common in Indonesia, uses one name.

The video showed a militant, his face masked with a red chequered scarf, handing Budiyanto a pen, prayer beads, a maroon copy of the Quran, and a white Muslim prayer cap. Budiyanto kissed the Quran and immediately put on the cap. Hafid, given a scarf, could be seen smiling faintly.

The two Indonesians appeared to be in good health. They were shown standing outside against a rocky dirt outcrop, wearing heavy jackets to ward off the cold.

The militant said he was from the Mujahedeen in Iraq, a group about which little is known.

Their release followed an appeal by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday to militants to set the pair free. Yudhoyono said the two were in Iraq because “we in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country - are very concerned about the situation in which the people of Iraq find themselves.”

Another video released on Friday showed the reporters flanked by masked gunmen, with a voice speaking off camera saying the two were being held the Mujahedeen in Iraq. Like the latest video, its authenticity could not be verified.

Ramadi, where the reporters initially went missing, is a centre of insurgent activity 70 miles west of Baghdad. US and Iraqi forces introduced a curfew on the city yesterday, launching an operation to crack down on terrorists and insurgents there.

More than 190 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq in the past year, and more than 30 of the hostages were killed.

Another journalist in Iraq, Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad on February 4. She appeared in a video delivered anonymously to APTN on Wednesday begging for her life and warning foreigners – including journalists – to leave the country. She was held by a previously unheard of group called Mujahedeen Without Borders.

French journalist Florence Aubenas, who works for the daily newspaper Liberation has been missing since she disappeared January 5 after leaving her Baghdad hotel.

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