Romanian hostage release denied

Romanian authorities have rejected as rumours television reports that three journalists kidnapped in Iraq had been freed.

    All three Romanian journalists were seized on 28 March

    "We would have no reason to keep such information secret if it was true," said Adriana Saftoiu, a spokeswoman for the president's office.
    Journalist Marie-Jeanne Ion and her cameraman Eduard Ohanesian from Prima TV and Sorin Miscoci of the Romanian daily Libera, were taken hostage on 28 March along with their guide, Iraqi-American Mohamed Munaf, on the outskirts of Baghdad.
    A video of the visibly frightened hostages was broadcast on 30 March by Aljazeera.
    Two Romanian television stations, Antena 1 and Pro TV, earlier on Tuesday reported that the three had been released, quoting official sources.
    A third channel, Realitatea TV, quoting sources in Baghdad, later reported the journalists were "safe and well" and "in the hands of the coalition forces". 

    "Romania is for the first time confronted with a situation of this type, which is why the media have a tendency to give credence to rumours," Saftiou said.
    "The release of the journalists will be announced when it happens. It would be fantastic to be able to announce it tomorrow [Wednesday], but it is not certain," she said.
    Earlier, she had said that operations aimed at recovering the journalists were under way, but that "any further information would put [these operations] at risk".
    The reports of their release came as the arrest was announced of a Syrian-Romanian businessman who said he had been in contact with the kidnappers.
    "A Syrian-Romanian, Umar Hayssam, was arrested this afternoon [Tuesday] on the request of prosecutors," said Saftoiu.
    On 29 March, Hayssam had told Romanian television stations that he had been "contacted by the kidnappers", who had demanded an undisclosed ransom, which he had refused.
    Hayssam is close to the Iraqi-American businessman Munaf, who was kidnapped at the same time as the three Romanians.
    But Romanian media had later questioned Hayssam's credibility.



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