Government plays down Carey's hostage appeal

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The Independent Online

Whitehall sources sought to distance the Government last night from a direct appeal by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton for the release of five British hostages held in Iraq for the past year.

Lord Carey broke a Foreign Office request for a media blackout on the hostages by releasing a video statement in English and Arabic in which he greets the captors as "honourable men" and "men of faith".

"You believe, as I do, that faith is important in this broken world," said Lord Carey, who is the predecessor of Archbishop Rowan Williams. "I appeal to you, as good people, to release these men who long to be back home once more."

But, last night, officials privately expressed dismay at the public nature of the broadcast, and emphasised that its content was not the line of Government.

"These individuals have done what they need to do," one official said. "But it's not the official position of the Government and sometimes publicity and media hype can put individuals in danger."

Another said that "discreet negotiations" were the preferred course of action by the Government.

Asked about the intervention, which went over the head of diplomats, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We want them released but we want them released safely."

She added: "We are doing everything we can in order to secure the safe release of the hostages.

"Since day one of the kidnapping, FCO consular officials have remained in close contact with the families." The comments come despite an appeal in December from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for the immediate release of the five British hostages.

Lord Carey recorded the message in the House of Lords standing beside Canon Andrew White, his former Middle East envoy and now the Anglican chaplain to Iraq. Canon White has been working in Iraq for the release of the hostages in question – an IT consultant and the four security guards protecting him – since their kidnapping outside the Ministry of Finance on 29 May last year.

In a video released by the kidnappers in December 2007, one of those held said: "I feel like we have been forgotten."

In the message released last night, Canon White said: "We are working hard to make serious contacts. There are positive developments and we really hope we can get our people back. We are told that they are all OK, that they are good.

"It is really difficult, really painful for their families. It is a year now and they wonder when are they going to get their people back – husbands, boyfriends and fathers.

"What we are doing is separate from everything that the Foreign Office, the government of Iraq and the embassy is trying to do. We are working as religious leaders."

Canon White begins his appeal to the kidnappers of the men by declaring that Iraq is "clearly one of the greatest nations in the world today".

Lord Carey says: "As the former archbishop of Canterbury and as someone closely working with Muslim leaders ... to bring peace about ... I greet those holding our five British security guards captive. I greet you, as honourable men. I greet you as men of faith. You believe, as I do, that faith is important in this broken world. Perhaps I may also greet you as men who share with me a belief in a God who is all compassionate.

"This is one of the great names of God in Islamic faith. Because God is compassionate, may I appeal to you as honourable people to release these men who have been away from their families for over one year: you know what that means."