Czech hostages released

16-04-2004

The hostage crisis in Iraq continues, with several dozen foreign nationals still being held by militants, but three Czech journalists, held since last Sunday, had reason to celebrate on Friday, as they were suddenly and unexpectedly released. David Vaughan reports.

Vit Pohanka, Michal Kubal, Petr Klima, photo: CTKVit Pohanka, Michal Kubal, Petr Klima, photo: CTK The entire Czech nation breathed a sigh of relief, when the news came through on Friday afternoon that three Czech journalists kidnapped last Sunday on their way by taxi from Baghdad to Jordan had been released. Czech Radio's Vit Pohanka sounded euphoric, as - speaking from the Czech Embassy in Baghdad - he told listeners back home that he and the other two men kidnapped, both from Czech Television, were safe and well. As he described the six-day ordeal, he said they had no idea who had kidnapped them. They had been blindfolded after their car had been forced to stop, and taken to somewhere in the country. He said that they had been treated well, but that the hardest part of the ordeal was the constant doubt - every day they were told that they might be released.

The Czech deputy foreign minister, Petr Kolar, said that a meeting between the Czech Ambassador to Iraq and Sunni spiritual leaders had helped in guaranteeing the release, and that a letter from Czech Muslims had also been of help.

The kidnappings came as a shock here in the Czech Republic. Previously Czechs had experienced the conflict in Iraq largely at one remove. Czech troops did not take part directly in the invasion last year, and there have been no immediate Czech casualties.

The Czech foreign ministry has urged Czechs to avoid travelling to Iraq, and this week Czech aid agencies, which up to now have been very active in the country, withdrew their personnel.

16-04-2004