The Red Crescent and the Tariq Noor ul-Huda construction company have made contact with insurgent commanders to secure the release of 40 Indian nationals being held captive near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, diplomatic sources have told The Hindu.
The informal negotiations centre on the release of the Indians, believed to be held by insurgents in a cotton factory near Mosul, and over a hundred other expatriates from South and East Asia.
The External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday that the Iraqi government had confirmed that the Indians were being held captive near Mosul and that they had traced their location. Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin denied that the Indian Embassy or the government had received any demands for ransom.
The Ministry said that while the men remained captive, there could be no guarantees of their security and the Indian government would “pursue every avenue and utilise every channel” to ensure their safe return. “There is no safety in captivity,” Mr. Akbaruddin said denying that the government had any knowledge of the unofficial negotiations taking place.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who met relatives of the abducted Indians, chaired two meetings of the Crisis Management Group. “I am personally supervising the efforts. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure rescue of our citizens,” Ms. Swaraj said here.
She met Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Punjab and Kerala have the highest number of workers caught in the crossfire in Iraq.
A highly placed western source familiar with the negotiations being held with insurgent commanders told The Hindu that the likely evacuation route for them stretches east to Erbil, held by Kurdish forces, which is a major economic hub from where commercial flights continue to operate. The road, however, is held by several different militias, making a safe journey hard to guarantee at present.
While most of the 40 Indians in captivity in Mosul are from Punjab, the 46 nurses who are still working in a hospital in the ISIS-held town of Tikrit are from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Speaking to The Hindu from Tikrit on Thursday, one of the nurses said members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited them and handed over juice, cakes and telephone recharge coupons.
She confirmed that they were in contact with Indian Embassy officials every two hours to update their situation. She said the firing had died down outside the hospital, but shops and the entire town remained closed.
However, she repeated that most of the nurses did not wish to return to India at present as they had not yet been paid salaries of $600-$850 a month. Some of the more recent arrivals at the hospital have not been paid for four months.
The problem adds to the External Affairs Ministry’s dilemma. While the families and opposition leaders have called for India to launch a massive evacuation effort, many of the Indian workers calling the government’s helplines said they did not wish to give up their jobs and leave Iraq despite the uncertainty.