German foreign minister thanks Europe, US for help in release of Iraq hostages

Germany's foreign minister Tuesday thanked European and U.S. partners for helping to secure the release of two German citizens who were kidnapped and held hostage for 13 weeks in Iraq

The release of Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich earlier in the day was aided by "the support of our partners in Europe and America," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

Braeunlich and Nitzschke were abducted Jan. 24 as they drove to their work in northern Iraq for Cryotec Anlagenbau AG, a German company from Leipzig, by a militant group that identified itself in a video as the Brigade of Supporters of the Sunna and Tawhid.

Relatives of the two men and hundreds of Leipzig residents held regular candlelight vigils asking for them to be released.

"I also want to send a message of solidarity to the families of the hostages, which always showed courage and hope and have thus contributed to make this release possible," Steinmeier said.

"This is a good day," he added.

Steinmeier was in Santiago to meet with Chilean Foreign Minister Alexander Foxley, who congratulated his German counterpart on the news.

The two diplomats made brief statements at a joint news conference but did not take questions.

Steinmeier, who arrived in Chile Monday on the first stop of a South American tour that will also take him to Argentina and Brazil, said he and Foxley had discussed the possibility of Germany helping Chile diversify its energy sources.

"I think there's room to develop cooperation in that area," he said.

Steinmeier said the talks were interrupted often by calls from Germany with details of the hostages' release.

In a statement, the German Foreign Ministry said Nitzschke and Braeunlich were in a safe place in Iraq and were being cared for by German officials there. They were expected to return home sometime Wednesday.

"Based on initial information, both men are unharmed and in stable condition," the statement said, reports AP.

O.Ch.