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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Cutting deals

Italian hostages released from Iraq

Some Question if Ransom Paid for Hostages

Wednesday September 29, 2004 11:46 PM


Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) - Italians celebrated the freedom Wednesday of two women aid workers held captive in Iraq for three weeks, but the nationwide joy was diluted by questions about whether a ransom was paid, a capitulation to terrorists that experts say only leads to more hostage-taking.

Italy's foreign minister flatly denied that Rome had bought the women's freedom. Premier Silvio Berlusconi declined to issue a flat yes or no. A key lawmaker said he believed the government had paid $1 million.

``In principle, one should not give in to ransoms. But this time, they had to,'' said Gustavo Selva, the lawmaker and a Berlusconi political ally. ``The lives of two girls was the most important thing.''

Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, 29-year-old workers for the aid group ``Un Ponte per...'' (A Bridge to ...), were kidnapped Sept. 7 in a daring raid on their Baghdad office. They were released Tuesday.

Berlusconi brushed off the ransom question, telling La Stampa newspaper: ``We won't say anything. Even more, we won't talk about it anymore.'' Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told state-run radio that ``no ransom at all'' was paid.

But Selva voiced the thoughts of many Italians.

``The government has denied it, but that's an official denial that comes in the context of the obligations of a government in order not to give the impression that it gave in to the ransom,'' Selva said.

The ransom question is particularly delicate in Italy, which for decades has maintained a tough stance against domestic kidnappings. A 1990 law freezes the assets of hostages and their families to prevent ransom payments. The legislation, often applied despite desperate appeals from relatives willing to pay, is credited with reducing abductions domestically.

But with Italy rejoicing over the women's release, few seemed to mind how that result was achieved.

``Who cares?'' said opposition lawmaker Antonio Di Pietro.

``There's nothing to be ashamed of,'' the newspaper La Repubblica wrote.

When faced with kidnappings, governments typically say they are resisting negotiations with kidnappers and hardly ever admit paying ransom.

Selva said a ransom ``leads to a dangerous path, because obviously - either for political reasons or criminal reasons - it might encourage others to take hostages to make money.''

An editorial in the conservative paper Il Foglio said that ransoms would lead to more ``weapons and recruitment in the war against peace and democracy'' in the Middle East.

In Spain - which withdrew its forces from Iraq after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid and the election of a Socialist government opposed to the war - Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos congratulated Italy on the release, but warned that ``the blackmail of the terrorists must never triumph.''

``No one should negotiate with the terrorists in any way,'' Moratinos said.

The Italian government couldn't risk the murder of these two women. So they paid off the kidnappers. Who will, of course, kill more coaltion troops. But it solved Berlusconi's problem.

At some point, this circus of death has to end. The resistance and their criminal allies have confounded us at every turn and it will only get worse, as thre Brits find a way to save their hostage.

posted by Steve @ 1:00:00 AM

1:00:00 AM

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