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Germany likely paid ransom for hostages-Iraq envoy

By Staff
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BERLIN, May 3 (Reuters) Iraq's ambassador to Germany today said he believed Berlin paid a hefty ransom to secure the release of two German engineers who were held hostage in Iraq for over three months.

''Regarding the payment of ransom, I don't know, but I assume it was a large amount of money,'' Iraq's ambassador to Germany Alaa Al-Hashimy told ARD public television.

The two men were due to arrive at Berlin's Tegel airport later today but officials were tightlipped about the circumstances surrounding their kidnap and subsequent release after nearly 100 days in captivity.

Separately, Germany's foreign ministry criticised media reports that a ransom was paid to Iraqi kidnappers for the men, who were handed over to German authorities in Baghdad yesterday.

''Any indication in this direction could lead to imitators,'' deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told Bayerischen Rundfunk today, adding that such speculation could endanger future cases of hostage-taking.

German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff was freed in December after being held hostage in Iraq for three weeks. German media have quoted unidentified diplomats as saying Berlin paid the kidnappers 5 million dollars for her release.

The German government is known to have paid ransoms for hostages in the past, but refused to comment on whether it did for Osthoff.

Erler said analysis of video footage of the two German hostages broadcast during their ordeal suggested that they were the victims of Iraq's hostage industry, rather than a terrorist organisation.

The two men, Thomas Nitzschke und Rene Braeunlich from the eastern city of Leipzig, were abducted on January. 24 outside their workplace in the industrial town of Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad.

More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Most foreign hostages have been released.

REUTERS KD PM1541

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