Mystery surrounds Chinese peasants kidnapped on the road to Baghdad

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The Independent Online

Many Chinese were bewildered by the news that seven peasants from Fujian province had been taken hostage by militants on the road to Baghdad on Sunday and released early today.

Many Chinese were bewildered by the news that seven peasants from Fujian province had been taken hostage by militants on the road to Baghdad on Sunday and released early today.

State media reports have reiterated the Chinese government position that it always opposed the invasion of Iraq. No one is sure what the men were doing in Iraq or why they were seized. Reports on the state-run Xinhua news agency speculated the men had taken themselves to Iraq as migrant workers.

The seven entered Iraq from Jordan on Sunday morning and were abducted in Fallujah, Xinhua said. They seem to be part of the exodus of migrants from the Fujian province, where for generations peasants have paid gangsters to smuggle them out to work as contract labourers. Most of the 20 labourers who drowned while gathering cockles in Morecambe Bay came from the same part of the province. As much as 30 per cent of the Fujian workforce is believed to be employed outside of China.

The Chinese government said it had no idea what the men were doing there. Beijing only re-opened its embassy in Baghdad last month, but it appears that since February China has been allowing oil companies to return to take up contracts won under Saddam Hussein.

The Chinese may have endured a similar experience to Gary Teeley, the 37-year-old British civilian contractor who was freed by his captors on Sunday. Yesterday he said that he feared he was facing "the end" while in captivity in Iraq. He was treated in an Italian field hospital after his release from six days of captivity at the hands of the Iraqi militia.

Speaking at the 22 Field Hospital in Shaibah, Mr Teeley described his abduction as daunting. He said: "There was two or three different instances when I thought this was the time, this is no more and this is where it all stops."

Mr Teeley said he had tried to befriend some of his abductors, but there were moments when he thought he was facing the end, describing his time in captivity as "mental torture." Anticipating his return to the UK, Mr Teeley said: "Obviously I can't wait to see my family and friends. I suppose when they first heard my name mentioned it must have been a lot of disbelief. It was a lot of disbelief with me as well."

Mr Teeley was employed by a company named QIT who had the contract for supplying laundry systems for Coalition Forces in the Nasiriyah City area.

Relatives of another captive, the American civilian Thomas Hamill, were yesterday waiting to learn what had happened to him after the Sunday morning deadline imposed by his abductors passed.

Mr Hamill, 43, was snatched on Friday by gunmen who attacked a fuel convoy he was guarding just outside Baghdad. His captors threatened to kill him unless US troops ended their assault on the city of Fallujah.

It was also reported yesterday that 11 Russians working for an energy company in Iraq have been kidnapped in Baghdad. The al-Jazeera television report, citing an unnamed Russian source, said its correspondent in Moscow was told about the kidnapping by the company for which the Russians worked.

Hostage Developments

  • Three Czech journalists have been missing since Sunday, believed kidnapped.
  • Two US servicemen and eight workers believed to have been kidnapped last week.
  • Three Japanese aid workers are being held hostage in southern Iraq.
  • Seven Chinese civilians were kidnapped in Fallujah on Sunday, then released.
  • A British contractor kidnapped on Thursday was freed on Sunday.
  • Nine lorry drivers ­ from Turkey, Nepal, the Philippines and India ­ were kidnapped and released on Sunday.
  • Seven South Korean missionaries were held on Thursday then released.
  • A Canadian aid worker and a Palestinian man were kidnapped in Najaf on Wednesday.
  • Eleven Russians working for an energy company were kidnapped in Baghdad yesterday.

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