Ending US occupation of Iraq key to hostages’ safe release

It’s been more than a month now since four international peace workers were abducted while conducting human rights work in Iraq.

It’s been more than a month now since four international peace workers were abducted while conducting human rights work in Iraq.

Next week marks a full month since the kidnapping group, Swords of Righteousness Brigade, issued its last statement to the world.

In it, the group threatened to kill the four men unless all Iraqi prisoners being held in the country and in the US were released.

Since then, there has been nothing but silence.

There is currently no specific information on the hostages, according to Rodney Moore, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada.

“I’m not in a position to comment on our efforts to secure the safe release of the hostages,” he said from his Ottawa office.

“We’re working urgently and closely with the Iraqi, UK and US governments, both in capitals and on the ground in Baghdad.”

The four hostages were workers with  Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that seeks to promote peace through passive resistance.

The slogan on its website is “committed to reducing violence by getting in the way.”

“There’s been silence now for several weeks,” Christian Peacemaker Teams spokesperson William Payne said from Toronto.

Two of the hostages are Canadian citizens, James Loney, 41, a community worker from Toronto and Harmeet Sooden, 32, an electrical engineer from Montreal.

Norman Kember, a 74-year-old retired professor from England, and Tom Fox, a 54-year-old US citizen who works with children, were also abducted.

Despite the lack of communication, which Payne calls “the painfulness of waiting,” those close to the hostages are continuing to hold vigils and to fight peacefully to end the US-led war in Iraq.

The best way for people to encourage the release of the hostages is to end the occupation of Iraq, he said.

“We would really encourage people there to continue to make bold statements and to do bold actions in support of an end to the violence being perpetrated against Iraqi people.”

Internationally, the Christian Peacemaker Teams plans to stage dramatic processions in Washington, DC, and to hold a public fast in front of the White House.

Throughout the crisis, Yukoners have also been publicly supporting hostages by holding vigils for the four international volunteers and Iraqis who are being detained.

This first prayer vigil was held in December at Whitehorse’s Sacred Heart Cathedral to support hostages taken in the conflict as well as to pray for the perpetrators of violence, explained local resident Mark Connell.

While organizers were expecting 10 or 20 attendees, about 200 people came to lend support.

Since then, a weekly vigil has been held on Thursday nights.

Connell and his partner Maura Sullivan have ties to Christian Peacemaker Teams and to Loney in particular.

Loney is a longtime friend who had visited the couple in the Yukon.

The hardest part about waiting is keeping his friend in mind every day, said Connell.

“The most difficult thing is how easily you fall into your daily routine and it becomes difficult to remember that there’s a person who’s close to you that you don’t know how they’re doing.”

The family has kept a candle lit in their house to remind them of Loney every time they pass by.

Connell also believes the way to fight for the safe release of the hostages is to educate people about the human cost of war in Iraq on its citizens.

“(There is a) need for ordinary people to be calling for peace, talking about justice,” he said.

Connell encourages Yukoners to be aware of violent situations in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

“The reality of people in Iraq, it’s just insane the chaos that people are living in on a daily basis.”

The four volunteers were originally in Iraq to document the conditions of Iraqis detained by the US military.

They had also begun working with religious organizations in the country to find ways to work together.

The day they were abducted, Connell said, the four men were on their way to meet with a group of Sunni clerics.

Until there is news of the hostages’ health and safe release, Christian Peacemaker Teams will continue to think positively, Payne said.

“There have been other cases where people have been held for long periods of time and then released.

“So we remain hopeful that the people that are holding them are getting to know them better as people that are working for the