Minister Says Missing Americans Safe, ‘Well-Treated’
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Two Americans who have not been seen or heard from since Iraqi police detained them 10 days ago are safe and being treated well, Iraq’s trade minister said today.
The two men illegally crossed into Iraq from Kuwait, but no formal decision has been made on whether to try them, Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh said at a news conference.
As other Iraqi officials have done, Saleh appeared to link the Americans’ fate to demands to lift a U.N. trade embargo, which has brought severe hardship to Iraq’s 20 million people since it was imposed in 1990.
``Twenty million Iraqi people are in custody since five years ago,″ Saleh retorted when asked about the Americans. ``They are hostages of the U.S. and British aggressive policies.″
The United States and Britain have opposed lifting the sanctions, which went into effect after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq claims it has met U.N. conditions for easing the embargo.
The two Americans, who work for U.S. defense contractors, crossed the border inadvertently, U.S. officials have said. An Iraqi border patrol took them into custody March 13.
``They are safe, they are well-treated,″ Saleh said.
But, he added, ``We have laws in Iraq, as there are laws in the United States.″
He said the final decision about the pair ``will be given as the U.N. representative of Iraq told the United Nations.″
Family members have identified the two as David Daliberti, 41, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Bill Barloon, 39, who grew up in New Hampton, Iowa.
Barloon’s wife, Linda, told The Associated Press she was relieved to know that her husband was safe, but appealed for his release today.
``I would like to make a personal request to the Iraqi government. Please, please don’t tie the issue to the political policies between our two countries,″ said Mrs. Barloon.
``I am positive that my husband didn’t intentionally break your laws and for the sake of our three children, I implore you to allow him to return home safely.″
The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoun, said last weekend that the Americans were in custody, were safe and that investigations were under way.
Conviction in Iraq of illegally crossing the border is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Saleh did not indicate whether the Red Cross or Western diplomats would be allowed to see the men.
On Saturday, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said the two Americans had violated Iraqi law but predicted ``nothing much will happen to them.″