Condemning in strongest terms abduction of three of its nationals in Iraq, India today said the hostages were "not combatants" but "innocent persons" and that it was making all efforts to seek their early release and safe return.
"The Indian government is in touch with authorities of Iraq and Kuwait besides embassies of the US and Kuwait in New Delhi over the development," External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, who is here in connection with the SAARC Ministerial Conference, told reporters.
"We have all been shocked and distressed at the kidnapping .. This is a serious development," he said, appealing to "all those who have influence to assist in ensuring their safe return."
A group calling itself 'Black Flags' has taken three Indians, two Kenyans and an Egyptian hostage in Iraq yesterday and threatened to behead them if the Kuwaiti firm for which they work did not pull out of the country. The Indians are Antaryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh.
The hostages, Singh said "are not combatants but innocent people of a friendly country."
"Whatever objective of these people who kidnapped them have is surely wrong. As it is they don't have any sympathy but to do this to Indians, Egyptians and Kenyans will only arouse passions and emotions."
Singh said India is also in touch with the Egyptian and Kenyan envoys in New Delhi.
"Naturally we are very anxious," he said, hoping "this dark period is over and they (hostages) get back to their families as soon as possible."
Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed spoke to Singh twice this morning to brief him on the latest developments. The External Affairs Ministry is also in close touch with the Prime Minister's Office.
"Our government is not there. No one can accept their demands. We condemn it in the strongest terms and hope this issue gets over quickly," Singh said.
He said the threat extended by the abductors will increase the anxiety and "will not do any good".
"We are making all efforts to ensure their early release and safe return," the minister said, pointing out that victims were were non-government persons driving trucks of a private company and had "nothing to do with the war or post-war developments" in Iraq.
Asked whether India will ask its nationals in Iraq to return in view of the development, Singh said "No, we have not reached such a stage. Let us see how situation evolves. Our relations with Iraq are good. I hope a situation does not arise where we have to think of other steps. I still hope that good sense will prevail and innocent persons will be released."
On whether there will be any change in India's policy towards Iraq in view of the development, the External Affairs Minister said "our policy is to help in reconstruction and provide humanitarian assistance."
He made it clear that the question of sending troops to Iraq does not arise.
"After the UN Security Council passed its unanimous resolution, all countries want to help in whatever terms they can and not in military terms. We certainly have committed a fair amount of money in our own modest way," he said.