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Berlusconi:  No Question Italian Troops Will Remain in Iraq - 2004-04-13


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the withdrawal of his country's troops from Iraq is not in question after it was confirmed that four Italian nationals were abducted in Iraq.

Four Italian security consultants have been abducted near the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Their disappearance was first announced by Italian state television and then confirmed by pictures of the men shown on the Arab television network al-Jazeera.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi vowed to do everything possible to obtain the release of the Italians held hostage in Iraq. In a statement, the prime minister also made clear Italy is committed to keeping its troops in Iraq.

The four Italians kidnapped are believed to be employees of DTS (Defense Technological Systems), an American private security company. Italian state television first reported that the men had disappeared near Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

The foreign ministry in Rome then confirmed the abduction, saying it was in constant contact with its diplomats in Iraq. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, however, ruled out the possibility that Italy would negotiate with the kidnappers to obtain the release of the Italian nationals.

The Arab television network al-Jazeera on Tuesday showed pictures of the Italian hostages holding their passports and sitting in a room surrounded by gunmen wearing Arab headscarves. It reported that the men were kidnapped by Mujahadeen fighters belonging to a group called the Green Brigade of the Prophet.

The report by al-Jazeera said the kidnappers are demanding that Italian troops based in Iraq withdraw within a specified time.

Italy has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and sent in troops for peace-keeping and reconstruction efforts at the end of the war. Around 3,000 Italian soldiers are based in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Dozens of foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq in recent days. These were the first confirmed Italian nationals to be abducted.

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