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Germany

German Workers Missing in Iraq

Two German security workers are missing in Iraq, but Foreign Ministry officials say there is no evidence of a kidnapping -- at least so far.

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The German Foreign Ministry on Saturday confirmed a report by public broadcaster ARD that two German security personnel assigned to the German embassy in Baghdad have been missing for several days. However, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Berlin said there was no evidence they had been kidnapped.

In recent days Iraqi guerillas have taken several foreigners hostage including three Japanese in order to blackmail governments to remove their troops from the country. Two American soldiers and several civilians have also gone missing after unidentified assailants attacked their convoy near Baghdad on Friday.

On Saturday, Germany's Interior Ministry also confirmed the disappearances, but warned there were no clues that the men had been kidnapped. The ministry said it had not ruled out the possilbilty that the two civil servants, reported missing following a routine personnel exchange, had been killed.

ARD's Baghdad bureau has reported that the missing men, allegedly members of the GSG-9 special unit, disappeared after their convoy was attacked on their way from Amman, Jordan, to the Iraqi capital. The broadcaster said the convoy had apparenlty come under heavy fire. Though other vehicles traveling in the convoy reached Baghdad, the men have been missing since Wednesday. ARD reporters daid the men, aged 38 and 25, had disappeared near the city of Fallujah, the center of the uprising against foreign troops and civilian workers in recent days. According to ARD, local newspapers in Baghdad have published photos of the men.

U.S. calls for cease-fire

On Saturday, U.S. military spokesman Gen. Mark Kimmitt confirmed that American officials are calling for a cease-fire on both sides in the western Iraq city of Fallujah. Washington is hoping the cease-fire will facilitate negotiations between the interim Iraqi government and the Sunni insurgents. However, the U.S. Marines continued to mobilize troops in the area. If discussions fail to take place, Kimmitt said the U.S. would end its cease-fire in 24 hours.

Since the beginning of the week, U.S. forces have killed at least 450 Iraqis and injured a further 1,000 in the city, which has become a flash point for insurgent forces, the Arab satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera has reported, quoting the head of the city's main hospital. Several members of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council have threatened to resign if the fighting in Fallujah doesn't stop.

Fighting also broke out Saturday in the Baghdad suburb Adhamiya, a town populated mostly by Sunni Muslims, between insurgents and U.S. soldiers. Eyewitnesses reported seeing cloacked guerillas attacking the Americans in small groups. U.S. helicopters could be seen flying overhead and the sounds of fighting could also be heard.

Several foreigners kidnapped

In recent days, several foreign civilians working in Iraq have been kidnapped during the worst flare up of violence since the official end of fighting one year ago. According to current information, no Germans have yet been kidnapped. The fate of others being held hostage is also unknown.

Demonstration in Japan gegen die militärische Beteiligung im Irak

Residents in Tokyo to appeal the Japanese government to withdraw the Japanese troops from Iraq for the release of three Japanese civilians kidnapped in Iraq.

A high-ranking Japanese diplomat arrived in Jordan on Saturday, and has called for the release of three Japanese kidnapped earlier in the week. The hostage-takers have demanded that the Japanese withdraw the close to 550 soldiers they have deployed in Iraq -- otherwise they will kill the hostages, who have been held since Thursday. The kidnappers have reportedly given the Japanese an ultimatum to remove their troops by Sunday. The kidnappings have created public outrage in Japan, where protesters (photo) called on the government Saturday to withdraw its troops.

However, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his government have so far refused to cede to the hostage-takers' demands. The kidnappers, from an unknown Iraqi group, released a video earlier this week in which the hostages were shown blindfolded with weapons, including a sword, being held up to their throats. The group has threatened to burn the hostages alive if Tokyo does not meet their demands.

According to the news agency Reuters, citing Iraqi resistance sources, additional hostages have also been taken, including four Italians and two Americans. U.S. soldiers have also confirmed the disappearance of a few Americans, but no additional kidnappings have been officially confirmed.

Berlusconi visits Italian troops

In a separate development Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a surprise visit to Italian troops based in the southern Iraq city of Nasirija, where close to 3,000 Italian soldiers are stationed.

DW Staff (dsl)