EDITOR’S NOTE - Parts of this dispatch were subject to Iraqi
EDITOR’S NOTE - Parts of this dispatch were subject to Iraqi censorship.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq on Friday handed over 40 foreign journalists and two American soldiers that it had captured in the southern part of the country, the Red Cross said. It said they would leave Iraq on Saturday.
Hours earlier, official Baghdad Radio first acknowledged Iraq was holding the journalists, whose disappearance prompted appeals from the United States, the United Nations, news executives and human rights groups. Iraq said 11 Americans were among the journalists.
The radio also gave the names of the two servicemen, but a Pentagon official said the names did not correspond with U.S. lists.
One of those freed, Cable News Network reporter Greg Lamotte, said four of the journalists spent three days together in a small room. Lamotte said the Iraqis took good care of them.
″Of course, the thing that always ran through our minds was, ‘Would we ever get to go home again? Would we be harmed?’ And certainly we thought about ways to get out of our dilemma,″ Lamotte told reporters.
The journalists said they were captured on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra, where civil disorder broke out last week.
Iraqi soldiers loyal to the government seized the journalists in separate groups at a bridge that had been knocked out by allied bombing, the journalists said.
They were rounded up and taken to the campus of Basra University on Sunday, where they were kept for two days, and then trucked to Baghdad Tuesday, they said.
While at Basra University, they were given food, water and cigarettes by their Iraqi captors, the journalists said.
″The important thing is we’re safe,″ said Andrew Simmons of the British television network ITN. ″The most distressing aspect to all of this has been the fact that we’ve not been able to know whether or not our families have known we were safe.″
Red Cross officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the journalists would be flown to Saudi Arabia on a Red Cross plane.
However, Gabriel Montmollin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said they would depart Saturday for an overland journey to the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Montmollin also confirmed that authorities in Bagdhad had handed over the 40 journalists and two American POWs to Red Cross custody.
Iraq’s announcement that it held the missing journalists was carried by Baghdad Radio less than 12 hours after foreign media representatives expelled by the Information Ministry rolled out of Baghdad in a convoy headed for Jordan. Those journalists reached Jordan late Friday.
The Baghdad government earlier had refused to say whether it was holding any missing journalists, though accounts from correspondents and other reports had indicated they might be in Iraqi custody.
Baghdad Radio on Friday quoted an unidentified government spokesman as saying the 40 foreign reporters disappeared during their ″illegal presence in Basra,″ Iraq’s second-largest city.
The spokesman identified the two U.S. soldiers captured in Basra as 1st Lt. Gavin Rice and Pvt. Allen Jeoffrey Allen, both of the VII Army Corps.
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Miguel E. Monteverde, said he was aware of the Iraqi announcement but the names of the two soldiers ″don’t match any names that we’ve got. ... Right now we don’t know who they are.″
The radio said the group included 11 Americans, 17 French nationals, two Britons, three Italians, two Norwegians, a Spaniard, two Brazilians, an Irishman and an Uruguayan.
A list of the 40 reporters Iraq said it was holding was not immediately available.
But the latest journalists reported missing included five working for American publications - Todd Buchanan of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a Knight- Ridder paper; Chris Morris and Tony Suau of Time; John A. Giordano, and Ron Jacques, free-lance photographers from Saba Press Photos on assignment for U.S. News & World Report.
Two Norwegians and two Brazilian newspaper reporters also were reported missing Wednesday.
Americans reported missing earlier were Neal Conan of National Public Radio, Chris Hedges of The New York Times, and Lamotte and Tyrone Edwards of CNN.