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Indonesian Foreign Ministry says kidnapped journalists released

Monday, February 21, 2005

Indonesian Foreign Ministry says kidnapped journalists released

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The Indonesian Foreign Ministry said Monday two Indonesian journalists kidnapped in the volatile city of Ramadi last week were released.

A video and still photos delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News appeared to back up the claim, showing the two reporters shaking hands with a militant who read a statement announcing they were being freed. It was not possible to verify the tape's authenticity or when it was made.

The hostages whereabouts were not known, but in Jakarta, Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said the pair was leaving the country. He did not say where the reporters were headed, but the two were thought to be traveling by road to the border with neighboring Jordan.

"We can confirm that the two Indonesian hostages had been released, and we have re-established contact with them. They are now on the way out of Iraq,'' Natalegawa said.

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

The pair, working for the Indonesian cable network Metro TV, went missing 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 on the video, 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 U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, and has refused to send troops to the country.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry welcomed the news. "That's great, wonderful,'' said Natalegawa in Jakarta. "We were on an emotional roller-coaster waiting for that news.''

The two journalists were reportedly heading by car for the border with Jordan, and in Jakarta, Sandrina Malakiano of Metro TV said their location remained unclear.

"We are hoping to meet them at the border but we are still not sure of their whereabouts. We are still receiving several different pieces of information,'' she said.

The video showed a militant, his face masked with a red checkered 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 a Friday appeal by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono 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 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 center of insurgent activity 110 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces launched slapped a curfew on the city Sunday, 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 Feb. 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 Jan. 5 after leaving her Baghdad hotel.-AP

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