We will hear Kember's kidnappers, says Straw

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The Independent Online

Jack Straw encouraged the kidnappers of four westerners in Iraq to get in touch, saying "we are ready to hear what they have to say".

The Foreign Secretary said yesterday that the Government would not negotiate with kidnappers or pay ransoms. But he added that "as we have said in the past, if the hostage takers want to make contact with the British Government, we stand ready to hear what they have to say". The Foreign Office said no contact had been made, however.

The motive for the great majority of kidnappings in Iraq is money, although the kidnappers of westerners often pretend to have a patriotic motive.

The hostages are aid workers who were accused of being spies by their captors, a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

The four were seized as they were leaving the Muslim Scholars Association, a hardline Islamic organisation sympathetic to the resistance. The kidnappers have threatened to kill them if Iraqi prisoners are not released from American and Iraqi jails by 8 December.

Norman Kember, 74, Tom Fox from Virginia and two Canadians, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, all belonged to a Christian Peacemaker Team.

Gunmen also seized Bernard Planche, a French engineer at the Rusafa water treatment plant, yesterday in Baghdad's wealthy Mansur district. There were smears of blood where he had been clubbed to the ground by seven gunmen who dragged him to their car. He was living in Baghdad without bodyguards.