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Three Romanian journalists abducted in Iraq

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The journalists' abduction is the first such event to happen to Romanian journalists in Iraq

Three Romanian journalists were abducted in Baghdad, Iraq shortly after Romanian President Traian Băsescu visited the country to meet with the Romanian troops deployed there. The journalists went missing Monday, and have been identified as reporter Marie Jeanne Ion, cameraman Sorin Dumitru Miscoci and reporter Ovidiu Ohanesian. Miscoci and Ion were both from the television station Prima TV, which had been in Baghdad for five days to conduct interviews with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer. Ohanesian was an investigative reporter from the Bucharest-based 'România liberă' newspaper, and was scheduled to return to Romania this weekend.

The three journalists were abducted from a street next to the Flowerland Hotel, in the upscale Jadriya neighborhood, where they were staying. A hotel employee stated that the abduction occurred at approximately 20:30 on Monday. Prima TV also confirmed that it lost contact with the crew at 19:45 on Monday, and that Ion and Miscoci were probably kidnapped by a rebel group from Baghdad's al-Mansur district.

Kidnapping confirmed

The kidnapping was confirmed as Marie Jeanne Ion made a phone call to the Prima TV newsroom shortly after she was abducted, speaking a mixture of Romanian, English and Arabic. She told her colleagues to call the Romanian Embassy in Baghdad for help. Voices of men, seemingly angry and shouting in Arabic, could be heard in the background. A few minutes later, Ion sent an SMS message from her mobile phone to Prima TV, saying "Help, this is not a joke, we've been kidnapped. Help!"

Dan Dumitru, the news director at Prima TV, told another television station, Realitatea TV, "All I know [is that] they have been taken by force and we can't reach them any more." Ohanesian, the reporter from 'România liberă', could not be contacted, even though his colleagues in Bucharest tried ringing his mobile phone, which was switched off.

Romanian authorities promise action

 
President Băsescu, who visited Romanian troops in Iraq on the weekend, said that the Romanian authorities are determined to resolve the journalists' abduction

President Traian Băsescu, who has just returned from a surprise visit to Iraq, said on Monday night that "All the state structures are on alert and determined to resolve the disappearance of the three journalists." He also said that Romania has sought the help of the US-led coalition authorities in Iraq.

Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu confirmed the kidnapping on Tuesday morning, while on Monday evening he claimed that it was unclear what had happened to the three abducted journalists, and that no-one had contacted the Romanian government or authorities demanding a ransom. He went on to say that the journalists went missing in an upscale district that is only known for low-level crime, and that there is consequently a "ray of hope" that their abduction is not serious. However, Tăriceanu said that a special crisis unit was created inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to solve the abduction problem. The unit will make use of all necessary state institutions, including Romanian and foreign intelligence agencies.

Abduction could soften Romania's stance on Iraq

Romania currently has one of the world's largest contingents in Iraq, with more than 800 troops. During his visit to Baghdad on the weekend, President Băsescu said that he does not want to reduce the troop contingent and that Romania "will continue to take part in the reconstruction and stabilization missions in Iraq." Romania also announced that it will be sending 100 troops for peacekeeping purposes soon. This news comes in a time when most other countries in Europe have considered recalling their troops.

Until now, the Romanian presence in Iraq has not been as controversial as in other countries, mainly because no Romanian troops have died in Iraq. However, the abduction of the three journalists, announced on Monday, is expected to result in a decline of public support for the war, especially since 55% of Romanians are opposed to Romania's contribution to the war, after an opinion poll conducted in Bucharest on Monday. This is expect to result in authorities in reducing their plans for a stronger Romanian military presence in Iraq.

Romanian political analyst Stelian Tănase said, "It will be a shock for the public. It is the first time something like this has happened. If Romanian authorities aren't able to free the journalists, it will harm the support that Băsescu enjoys."

French government send their sympathies

 
The French authorities sent their sympathies to the Romanian people due to the kidnapping

The French authorities were the first government to sent their sympathies to the Romanian people in regards to the abduction of the three journalists. The spokesperson of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Michel Barnier, said "Romania can be sure of France's understanding." In response to whether Romania and France will collaborate on this case, M. Barnier said, "We will see if there is a request from the Romanian authorities." French journalists have also fallen victim to Iraqi rebels. Florence Aubenas, a French journalist, and her Iraqi guide were kidnapped in January 5 of this year, and have not yet been found.


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