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Indonesia Celebrates Release of Women Kidnapped in Iraq - 2004-10-05

Indonesia is celebrating the release of two of its female citizens who had been kidnapped by militants in Iraq.

The two women were apparently working as maids for contractors employed by a British firm when they were kidnapped last week by militants of the Islamic Army of Iraq.

They were released Monday after pleas from the Indonesian president and senior Islamic figures. In return for the freedom of the two women, the militants had demanded the release of Abu Bakar Bashir, a militant Indonesian cleric who has been linked to terrorist bombings.

The cleric has not been released, and in a statement issued through his lawyer he condemned the kidnappings.

The spokesman for the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said Tuesday that there had been no concessions to the kidnappers.

"We are absolutely delighted that they have been freed and that they are on their way back [to Abu Dhabi]. Just 24 hours ago we were still extremely worried about their fate and given the nature of the demand was such that it was impossible for us to comply with in terms of the demand for the release of Abu Bakar Bashir," said Marty Natalegawa.

The story of the release of 19-year-old Novitasari Sugito and 32-year-old Istiqomah Misnad has been vying for top story in the local news media with the announcement of the winner in the recent presidential election.

It has also raised difficult questions about the approximately two million Indonesians who are working overseas, many of them ill-educated women in domestic service in Asia and the Middle East.

The two women were apparently taken into Iraq by their employers, who were among the six Iraqis and two Lebanese who were taken hostage at the same time. The women had apparently been given false passports, making initial identification more difficult.

Indonesia has come under heavy criticism for not doing more to protect its citizens working abroad. Mr. Natalegawa says the foreign ministry has recommended a moratorium on sending its nationals overseas, but the practice brings into the country millions of sorely-needed dollars.