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Al-Jazeera airs video of hostages

Published: 11:57AM Sunday January 29, 2006 Source: Reuters

The captors of four Western peace activists in Iraq said US-led forces had one last chance to free Iraqi prisoners or they would kill the hostages, Al Jazeera television said on Saturday.
   
The Arabic channel aired a video from the Swords of Truth group, apparently showing the two Canadians, one Briton and one American standing against a wall. The grainy footage, shot in a dark room, was dated January 21.
   
The hostages appeared to be speaking to the camera but their voices could not be heard.
   
Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden were kidnapped on November 26 in Baghdad, where they were working with a Christian peace organisation, by the previously unknown Swords of Truth.
   
"The group ... said it was giving a last chance for its demands to be met through the release of Iraqi prisoners in American and Iraqi prisons in exchange for the release of the four hostages," the television said.
   
The Swords of Truth earlier issued a video of the four men and accused them of spying for US-led forces. It threatened to kill them unless prisoners in Iraqi jails were freed.
   
Reverend Alan Betteridge, president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship to which Kember, 74, belongs, said he was happy to see evidence the four were alive but concerned over the threat.
   
"We are glad to have some evidence that the four captives are still alive but we are very sad that the captors still repeat this threat of killing them that they issued two months ago," Betteridge, a close friend of Kember, told Reuters.
   
"We're very sorry that they're still talking in those violent terms after all the appeals from the Muslim world and others for the release of these non-violent peacemakers who were in Iraq for the benefit of justice and peace in that land." 
   
Pleas
   
In a message to the captors, Betteridge said: "Please release these four people, who are there genuinely as non-violent peacemakers.
   
Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams said: "We are so grateful and heartened to see James, Harmeet, Norman and Tom alive on the video tape dated January 21. This news is an answer to our prayers. We continue to hope and pray for their release.
  
 "We continue to believe that what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the US and UK governments in their illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people. 

We continue to call for justice and human rights for all who are detained in Iraq."
   
Muslim scholars and activists from around the world, including leaders of the militant Hamas and Hizbollah groups, have appealed for the release of the aid workers.
   
Thousands of civilians have been kidnapped since the fall of Saddam Hussein, including more than 200 foreigners seized by gangs seeking ransom or insurgents trying to put pressure on governments to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Many have been freed, but about 50 have been killed.