NATIONAL

Fresh talks on hostage issue soon

MANAMA, AUG. 21. Exactly a month after seven truck drivers, including three Indians, were abducted in Iraq, fresh talks between their Kuwaiti employer and a new set of Iraqi mediators are on the anvil.

Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that the talks could begin in a day or two, but cautioned that the timing for the dialogue could change because of the fluid situation on the ground. No time frame has been set for the negotiations to conclude, and in the light of past experience, sources were guarded about making any definitive prediction.

Dulaimi out?

The Kuwait Gulf Link and Transport Company (KGL) would lead the negotiations with a new set of mediators. The Iraqi tribal leader, Sheikh Hisham Al Dulaimi who had been involved in previous negotiations, is unlikely to emerge as the public face in the new exercise. "There is no policy decision to keep Mr. Al Dulaimi outside the talks, but it would be necessary for him to demonstrate that the kidnappers have authorised him to mediate on their behalf," the sources said.

While Mr. Al Dulaimi is an established leader of the Dulaimi tribe, doubts emerged about his standing with the kidnappers when he was unable to produce the hostages at the end of lengthy negotiations that concluded in Baghdad on August 8. "A plane was kept waiting in Baghdad for two days to give room for talks to succeed and bring back the hostages. But all these efforts went in vain."

On the contrary, New Delhi is fully backing KGL's participation in the upcoming talks.

"KGL earlier demonstrated its sincerity in getting the hostages released by actually chartering a plane to Baghdad. Its credentials to play a leading role in new negotiations are therefore not in doubt," the sources said.

For now, the identity of the new Iraqi negotiators who will mediate between KGL and the kidnappers, belonging to the Black Banners Brigade of the Islamic Secret Army, is being kept under wraps.

`Hostages well'

KGL said that it had fresh evidence that proved that all the hostages were in good health. "We have been seeking further proof of the wellbeing of our employees. That has now been provided to our friends in Iraq," the KGL spokesperson, Rana Abu Zaineh, told The Hindu over telephone from Kuwait.

Ms. Rana said that while the company had opened "multiple" channels of communication to reach out to the kidnappers, past experience had shown that setbacks in talks could not be ruled out.