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'All steps to get hostages released'

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI. JULY 23. For the second day, the Manmohan Singh Government continued its efforts to secure the release of the three Indian nationals taken hostage in Iraq.

The External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, on his return from Islamabad this afternoon, told presspersons that the situation was "serious" and that the Government was doing everything possible to ensure that the hostages were released expeditiously. He said he was not holding out any false hopes. "It is a serious situation and has to be dealt with in a sensitive manner."

Firm's assurance

Earlier, the Minister of State for External Affairs, E. Ahamad, told the media that the Indian mission in Kuwait had managed to establish contact with the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL). The firm assured the embassy that it "was willing to do everything necessary to ensure the safety and the release of the hostages."

The Government had suspended the emigration clearance of workers going to Iraq and had also advised them against going there. However, pilgrims will be allowed to visit Iraq. He said that Indian missions in Kuwait and Jordan had been asked to ensure that Indian workers were not forced to work in Iraq.

Group set up

Mr. Ahamad said a Crisis Management Group, consisting of senior officers, had been constituted under his chairmanship to pursue the matter. A control room had been set up in the Ministry of External Affairs.

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