Diplomats from China's embassy in Baghdad were in talks on Thursday with the Islamic Scholars Association and its chairman, Harith al-Dhari, who helped in the release of seven Chinese captured last April, the Xinhua news agency said.

"All of the Iraqi people know the attitude of the Chinese people toward the Iraqi issue, and I am optimistic that the kidnapped Chinese will be released soon," al-Dhari said.

"As long as the kidnappers claim themselves to be an Islamic party, I feel that the lives of the kidnapped are not in danger," he said.

The 1200 GMT deadline set by the captors passed with no news from the Chinese foreign ministry or Chinese state media.

 

Nothing to report


"We have no news to report," a ministry spokesman said minutes after the apparent deadline.

The captors released footage on Tuesday to Aljazeera of the eight hostages holding Chinese passports and standing against a mud brick wall flanked by two masked gunmen.

They were seized last week as they made their way to Jordan.
The China Daily said fighters from the Movement of the Islamic Resistance Nuamaan Brigade were behind the seizure and had threatened to kill the men unless Beijing "clarifies its role" in Iraq within 48 hours of the video's broadcast.

Iraqi Deputy President Ruwsch Nuri Shaways, who was in China on a previously scheduled visit, condemned the seizure and promised to secure their release, Xinhua said.

No US link

 

A picture issued to Aljazeera
shows the eight captives

The captors claimed the men, aged 18 to 40, were helping build American facilities in Iraq, but the government and associates of the men denied this.

"I have no idea why they were kidnapped by those militants since our company doesn't have a single link with the United States," a representative surnamed Yang of the clothing processing plant that the men were helping rebuild, told China Daily.

Beijing opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 but like other nations, its companies have been muscling in on lucrative reconstruction contracts in the war-ravaged country.

 

The men, all from poor villages in Pingtan county in the eastern province of Fujian, had been in Iraq for around a year but lost their jobs in November.

 

Poverty

"I would not have allowed him to go abroad but he completed the procedures without telling me."

Gao Yun, wife of captive Lin Qiang

Poverty forced them to go there, with their annual incomes at home little more than 120 dollars a year earned from farming sweet potatoes and peanuts, family members said.

"I would not have allowed him to go abroad but he completed the procedures without telling me," said Gao Yun, wife of captive Lin Qiang.