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Cypriot hostage freed in Iraq

Agence France Presse -- English
January 1, 2006 Sunday 1:16 PM GMT

NICOSIA Jan 1 -- A Cypriot-Lebanese man taken hostage by gunmen in
Iraq five months ago and threatened with death has been released,
officials and family members said Sunday.

The Cypriot foreign ministry said it had been informed by the family
of Garo Jikerjian, who is of Armenian origin and holds both Lebanese
and Cypriot citizenship, that he was freed on December 31.

"This was the best Christmas present I could ever expect, it's like
no other," said Jikerjian's aunt, Rita Metzadourian, who added that
she had spoken to him briefly and that "he said he was okay."

"There will be a big celebration. This is a great good news story,"
she said in Nicosia.

The Cypriot foreign ministry said Jikerjian was expected to return
to Cyprus in the next few days.

"The foreign ministry expresses its satisfaction at the happy
conclusion of the five-month captivity of the Cypriot national,"
it said in a statement.

The Lebanese embassy in Baghdad also confirmed the hostage's release,
saying it had come in "the past few hours."

Jikerjian was kidnapped by gunmen in August in Baghdad's upscale Mansur
district, where he was working for a Lebanese-owned but Cyprus-based
importer of food and liquor for US-led coalition forces and the
Iraqi army.

A group calling itself The Group for the Promotion of Virtue and
Prevention of Vice posted a video on the Internet on September 11
showing a man who identified himself as "Garo" sitting on the floor
with his hands and feet bound and a hooded gunman pointing an automatic
weapon at his head.

The group threatened to kill the hostage unless his company quit Iraq.

Last month, his father issued an appeal for Jikerjian's release in
a video message broadcast on Arab television.

"I believe there was payment made. They wouldn't have released him
otherwise, but I don't know any of the details," Metzadourian said.

Militants had initially demanded 20,000 dollars for Jikerjian's
release, but after his employer paid the ransom the amount jumped to
two million dollars, Metzadourian said in September.

Dozens of foreigners have been kidnapped by anti-US insurgents in
Iraq and some have been executed by their captors.

Around 40 foreigners remain missing or reported kidnapped since a
spate of abductions first blighted Iraq in April 2004.

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