Kidnapped Catholic priests freed in Iraq -Vatican

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NAPLES, Italy, Oct 21 (Reuters) Two Catholic priests kidnapped in Iraq have been freed, a Vatican spokesman said today.

''I can confirm that they are free,'' the spokesman said. He gave no details of the priests' health or how they were freed.

The priests were seized in the northern city of Mosul. The US military had said it was investigating intelligence reports that indicated the clerics were being held by an unidentified group for 1 million dollars ransom.

Last week Pope Benedict appealed for the priests to be released, using his weekly Angelus blessing to send the message that ''violence cannot bring relief to this tense situation''.

Christians form a small minority in Iraq. A recent US State Department report on religious freedom estimated the country has about 1 million Christians, down from 1.4 million in 1987.

Most belong to the Chaldean rite, one of the ancient rites of the Catholic Church.

REUTERS SKB VC1818

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