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Kidnapped Chinese Men Prepare to Leave Iraq - 2004-04-13

Seven Chinese nationals who were taken hostage in Iraq this week will soon head home.

Expressing relief, Chinese officials announced the seven men were in generally good condition following their two-day ordeal.

Gunmen captured the men on Sunday in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Chinese officials said the captors released the men on Monday.

Earlier reports said the men had been traveling on business in Iraq. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan clarified that they were laborers.

He said the men are originally from China's Fujian province and had gone to Iraq to look for jobs as construction workers. He said all the men had proper travel documents, and denied reports that had earlier said they might have been illegal migrants.

The men were among more than two-dozen foreigners believed to have been kidnapped by militants in Iraq in the past week. Several have been freed, including a group of South Korean missionaries. Three Japanese civilians are being held by the militants, who have threatened to kill them.

Mr. Kong said the men were released following, what he described as, intense efforts by the Chinese government to get them rescued. He gave no details on how their release was secured, but said China had paid no ransom, nor had it negotiated with the captors.

The men were released hours before Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Beijing for talks on a wide range of issues, which Chinese officials said would include discussions on Iraq.

China has opposed the U.S.- led war in Iraq and has repeatedly called for an end to the allied forces' occupation of the country.