Editor's Pick

The Originals - Watch First

Series 2, Episode 11 Brotherhood Of The Damned 27 Jan 15 00:40:45

Top Shows

Contact 20/20

Hope for kidnapped aid workers

Published: 10:23AM Wednesday December 07, 2005 Source: Reuters/RNZ

The family of an Auckland student held captive in Iraq is hopeful he will soon be freed.

Harmeet Sooden, a 32 year old Canadian citizen, was doing humanitarian work in Iraq when he and three others were kidnapped last month. The American, Briton and two Canadians work for Chicago-based organisation Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Sooden's brother in law Mark Brewer says a video that shows Sooden talking about hoping to be home soon has lifted the family's spirits. He says family members are talking with the New Zealand government about how they can get to Iraq for his release.

Christian Peacemaker Teams said on Tuesday they prayed that appeals by Muslim leaders to kidnappers of the four men would put a strong moral burden on their Iraqi captors to release them soon.

"We are praying and have high hopes with so many Islamic leaders speaking out publicly and calling for their release," spokeswoman Peggy said.

A group calling itself the Swords of Truth said it had taken the hostages and accused them of spying for foreign forces in Iraq.

Muslim scholars and activists from around the world, including leaders of militant Hamas and Hizbollah groups, appealed earlier this week for the mens' release.

Christian Peacemaker Teams emerged in 1989 out of the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers Friends Society and the Church of Brethren to send teams of Christians trained in techniques of non-violent action to conflicts around the world.

"We are not working for the government, we are not spies, we are legitimately working for lifting the lives of the Iraqi people," said Gish, adding that the group was among anti-war activists who came to Iraq before the US led invasion 2003.

At least two other Western hostages have been abducted recently by unknown gunmen, a German archaeologist and aid worker, Susane Ostthoff, and a French engineer, Bernard Planche, who worked at a Baghdad water treatment plant.

Gish worked with the four Christian aid hostages for the last three years.

She said it was important the kidnappers know the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, one of the few remaining aid groups operating in Iraq, in alleviating suffering of Iraqis.

"The kidnappers may have experienced a lot of suffering and it will help them to know what our team has been doing in Iraq," Gish said.

The hostages had documented US abuse of Iraqi prisoners before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was exposed and also spoke out against torture by Iraqi police, Gish said.

"When you see the horrible picture that came out, it's dehumanising for them but actually these are men who have been working for peace for most of their lives, they are very caring gentle people," Gish said.

"They would never be spies or trying to harm anyone."

Gish who came from Ohio to Jordan to coordinate efforts for their release said negotiations were under way with the help of many Iraqi supporters to ensure their safety.

"Our team is working behind the scenes with many Iraqis but I cannot talk about actual things, it's not wise," Gish said.

Asked if they were concerned about their lives, Gish said:

"We are realistic about the dangers, about the possibilities that it could be a tragic ending but we have hope," Gish said.

More than 100 foreigners have been seized by insurgents in Iraq in the past two years. Some were freed but dozens were executed by their kidnappers.