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Indian Government Says it is Working to Free Hostages in Iraq - 2004-08-11

The Indian government is still trying to free three Indian truck drivers taken hostage in Iraq. The Indian public is eagerly following negotiations in the three-week-old drama and it is dominating the Indian news media.

The Indian government says immediately upon learning that three of its citizens were taken hostage, it formed a crisis group and took other steps to try to win their freedom.

"We have sent one of our Arabic speaking ambassadors to Baghdad and he's currently there, to be able to use all possible channels," said Navtej Sarna, Foreign Affairs spokesman. "So naturally - some of these things have been appearing in the media, and some others, because of the nature of the case we are unable to talk about."

The Indian media has been closely following the crisis since three Indian truck drivers were kidnapped along with three Kenyans and an Egyptian in Iraq on July 21 by an insurgent group whose name loosely translates as "The Holders of the Black Banner."

Unlike other abduction cases where insurgents have forced governments to withdraw military personnel from Iraq, India, Kenya and Egypt do not have soldiers deployed there. But the transport company that employs the seven men complied with the insurgents' demand to stop working in the country and withdraw.

Meanwhile, local 24-hour news channels have descended upon the hostages' hometowns, broadcasting appeals for their release from the living rooms of family members.

Two stars from India's "Bollywood" film industry have also made informal appeals for the hostages' release after a negotiator said it would impress the militants.

Some analysts say the blanket news coverage is influencing the government's commitment to the crisis.

"The political leadership has to respond to that. They have to visit the hostage families, give them assurances that the government is doing everything it can," said Dipankar Banerjee, the director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Study, a New Delhi think-tank. "This becomes a very major factor affecting domestic public opinion," he added.

While the Indian government is pursuing all its diplomatic options, it is refusing to pay ransom for the hostages or negotiate with the kidnappers, leaving talks up to the trucking company.

Those negotiations have been beset with problems, including the replacement of the firm's top intermediary and new demands from the insurgents. Despite the impact the crisis has had within India, for the moment all the hostages can do is wait.