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Iran tourists to be freed soon

10 December 2003

TEHERAN – The students’ news agency ISNA reported late Tuesday that three European tourists and their Iranian guide soon will be freed after being kidnapped in southeastern Iran.

ISNA, whose news coverage of the incident has so far been reliable, quoted informed sources in the border province Sistan- Baluchistan as saying that the abducted tourists will be released within two or three days.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali-Asqar Ahmadi told the news agency IRNA earlier Tuesday that Iran will not make any compromise with the kidnappers.

“We will try to solve the case without payment of any ransom and without giving in to any compromise,” Ahmadi said.

“We have mobilized all our forces to solve the case at the earliest term and send the tourists to their families back home in good health,” he said, adding that Iran will not allow bandits to jeopardize the lives of foreigners who are guests in Iran.

Ahmadi called the kidnapping an act of retaliation by criminal gangs against the Iranian government’s decisive combating of drug trafficking.

“This is the price we have to pay for the task,” he said, adding that the amount of the ransom – EUR five million euro – is approximately the street value of narcotics confiscated from the gangs by police in recent months.

Police have yet to find any trace of the three tourists and the guide, who were kidnapped last week on a bicycle tour in southeast Iran, a government official said Tuesday.

The general director of the Sistan-Baluchistan governor’s office, Gholam-Reza Javdan, told the news service Kar that the one Irish and two German tourists and the Iranian guide were abducted by a drug- trafficking ring.

He could give no details but said that police had seized 40 tons of drugs from traffickers within the last eight months, and that the ransom money might be an effort to compensate for that loss.

He added that police and security forces will continue their extensive search for the kidnapped persons in the border province which is notorious as transit route for drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan to European markets.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi confirmed the abductions and accused the tourists themselves of acting “irresponsibly” by ignoring local police while planning a bicycle tour in a well-known insecure area.

“We have, however, mobilized police and security forces to trace the kidnappers and bring the case to a swift end,” Kharrazi told the news network Khabar.

The head of Iranian tourism, Mohammad Abd-Khodaie, told the student news agency ISNA Tuesday that Iran is still a very safe place for tourists, except for the border areas to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the tourists were abducted.

The government hopes to grow tourism into a major, new income source for Iran, and reports on security problems could harm efforts to attract foreign travellers.

Informed sources said Tuesday in Zahedan that though police and secret service have kept the operations quite secret for security reasons, news has leaked out that all four hostages are men.

The tour guide was blamed by police for not sufficiently warning the three tourists of the risks in the area, sources said, adding that a swap of jailed members of the notorious Shahbakhsh gang, suspected in the abductions, could be possible in return for the hostages.

Subject: German news