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Germany

German Officials Irate About Proposed Industry Ransom Fund

On the heels of the release of two German hostages from Iraq, a member of parliament has called on industry to foot future ransom costs.

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Did the German government pay to get them back?

Days after Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Bräunlich stepped on to German soil again, in the wake of 99 days of captivity, many people here believe that only the payment of a sizeable ransom made a happy ending possible in the latest hostage drama involving German nationals in Iraq.

Left-wing Social Democratic parliamentarian Ottmar Schreiner told the tabloid Bild on Friday that German industry should be urged to set up a special fund which would enable it to repay any ransom money the government has to agree to in future abductions of employees of German firms abroad. He argued that German companies were making good money in other countries, including in crisis regions. Hence it would be only fair if industry refunded any ransom the government paid instead of making taxpayers foot the bill.

The BDI federal association of German industry called Schreiner's proposal a big joke, as it would come close to a direct encouragement for kidnappers to try and get their hands on the fund.

No blackmail, government says

Susanne Osthoff Dankesbekundungen

There is still speculation that the government paid for Susanne Osthoff's release last year from Iraq

The Berlin government also reacted angrily to the leftist MP's suggestion. During the recent hostage-taking and after the release of the two engineers it had tried to avoid any impression that ransom was paid to the abductors.

"Like previous German governments, the current coalition isn't willing to react to blackmail attempts in any way," said government spokesman Thomas Steg. "We've never engaged in any negotiations about ransom issues, nor are we planning to do so in future. We've never paid any ransom to secure the release of German hostages. Against this background, I can't really understand why Social Democrat parliamentarian Ottmar Schreiner is demanding a so-called ransom fund to be set up by German industry. Why on earth should anyone need such a fund, if ransoms are never paid?"

Steg said that Schreiner should have thought twice before voicing such a proposal.

"I personally believe that this proposal is absurd and pointless," he said. "And the best thing you can do about it is to forget it immediately. I could use different language in evaluating Mr Schreiner's suggestion," he added.

Glad hostages are back

Leipzigs Oberbuergermeister Burghard Jung zeigt ein Flugblatt mit der Information ueber die Freilassung der Geiseln im Irak

Candlelight vigils were held weekly for the hostages in Leipzig

Christian Democratic party Secretary General Ronald Pofalla also lashed out against any such industry fund, albeit for different reasons. He did not try to convince the public that no ransom was paid in the latest hostage-taking incident. But he argued that the debate about full-scale compensation for any release costs was a typically German phenomenon.

"Shoudn't we instead be glad that the two Germans are back safely and unharmed and leave it that?" he asked.

The German firm for which the two former hostages work, called Cryotec, has meanwhile signaled it will make up for the costs the foreign ministry incurred for flight tickets and hotel bookings. But company director Peter Bienert said there should be no talk of refunding ransom money, as the government insists that none was paid.

Ex-hostages: We were treated well

In their first interview since their release, Bräunlich and Nitzschke meanwhile on Saturday said they had not been mistreated and their captors had been "committed Muslims." The two also denied suggestions that they had been sold by their hostage takers to another militant group, according to the interview in the Leipziger Volkszeitu n g daily.

"We were held captive by the same group the whole time," Rene Bräunlich, 32, was quoted as saying. "It's not true that we were 'sold.'"

Thomas Nitzschke, 28, said his captors were "committed Muslims" who frequently read the Koran and prayed five times a day. He added they "wanted to fight for their country."

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