German officials make no contact with kidnappers of woman in Iraq

The government has still had no contact from the kidnapper of a German woman seized nearly a week ago in Iraq, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday. Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver were taken last Friday, and were pictured in a videotape blindfolded on a floor, with militants, one armed with a rocket propelled grenade, standing beside them.

The militants are reportedly demanding that Germany cease its dealings with Iraq's government or they will kill the hostages. Germany was an ardent opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has refused to send troops there, but has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside the country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated in a speech Wednesday that Germany will not change its Iraq policy, stressing that the country will not "be blackmailed."

Steinmeier said the government has not yet been able to get in touch with the kidnappers to open negotiations.

"Contact with the group of kidnappers has not yet been made through those we are in contact with," he told reporters in Berlin.

Osthoff, a humanitarian aid worker who was a trained archaeologist, had been working on the renovation of a historical house in Mosul, according to local officials. It has been speculated that she was perhaps taken because of her work there, but Steinmeier said there was no confirmation of that. "I consider that a possibility, but not the unalterable conclusion," he said.

In an interview with Germany's Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung printed Thursday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani condemned the kidnapping and pledged he would do what he could to secure her release. "I deeply abhor this act of terror, and give my deepest sympathy and solidarity to the family and friends of those kidnapped," Talabani was quoted as saying.

"We will work with the German government in every conceivable way to release Susanne Osthoff from captivity as a hostage." Meanwhile Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said the incident shows that Germany is not immune from terrorism, reports the AP. I.L.

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