10/01/2004, 00.00
INDONESIA - IRAQ
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Indonesian government asks former president to help free hostages

Doubts about the abduction of the two women remain as people hope that it might be a mistake.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/AP) – The Indonesian government asked Abdurrahman Wahid, a former president and patron of the country's largest Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama, to help negotiate the release of Rosidah binti Anom and Rafikan binti Aming. The two Indonesian women are employed by electronics company G-Bell and were taken hostage yesterday by militants calling themselves members of the Central Regional Command of the Islamic Army in Iraq. The two were seized along with two Lebanese nationals and six Iraqis. In a videotape broadcast by Arab satellite station al-Jazeera, they call on their company to stop working for the occupying forces.

"We asked the former president to help us get in touch with important leaders in Iraq who might help in the negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marty Natalegawa said.

Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, is a long-time campaigner for human rights and religious freedom and has always presented himself as a defender of the rights of Indonesian minorities such as Chinese, Christians, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus. Internationally, he is known as a charismatic Muslim leader, but has not released any statement thus far.

Fery Amdahar, Legal Affairs Director in Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, said that diplomats from the Indonesian Embassy in Amman, Jordan, are on their way to Baghdad to gather information. In the meantime, the government is pinning its hopes on the odds that the abduction was a mistake since Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) never supported the war in Iraq.

"We call for the immediate release of these hostages," said Natalegawa. Yet, Indonesian authorities have acknowledged receiving no demands from the kidnappers and doubt that the abduction was politically-motivated.

Indonesia's Embassy in Doha, Qatar, expressed surprise that in the videotape the abductors spoke to the women in Indonesian with a thick Arabic accent.

In August, Fahmi Ahmad Wini, a Jakarta-based engineer, was killed in Mosul, northern Iraq. Following this incident Indonesia's Foreign Ministry warned its citizens against travelling to Iraq urging those already there to come home.

Millions of Indonesians have found work abroad through human resources agencies operating on the margins of the law. The number of Indonesians in Iraq is unknown.

The Islamic Army in Iraq was also responsible for the abduction of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, two French journalists who disappeared in August. (MH)

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