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Kember's clemency plea.

Byline: By Jane Prest

Freed Iraq hostage Norman Kember and two men held with him yesterday announced they "unconditionally" forgave their captors and wished them no "retribution".

The peace campaigner, along with two colleagues and fellow hostages James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, said they wanted "all possible leniency" for the men accused if convicted.

But the trio, holding a Press conference in London, have to decide if they will give evidence at the trial, set for next year in Iraq's Central Criminal Court. The joint statement comes after police approached Mr Kember and the other two to give evidence.

In the statement, the campaigners said: "We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us.

"What our captors did was wrong. They caused us, our families and our friends great suffering. Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution.

"Should those who have been charged with holding us hostage be brought to trial and convicted, we ask they be granted all possible leniency. We categorically lay aside any rights we may have over them."

As kidnapping is a capital offence in Iraq, the alleged captors could face the death penalty.

It is thought the campaigners are only likely to give evidence if they can achieve clemency.

Mr Loney said: "We do not have enough information to make a decision as to whether we are going to testify."

Yesterday is the first time the three have met since they were released in March and the meeting was arranged a year after the captors threatened to kill the hostages unless demands were met.

Retired Mr Kember was seized during a peace mission to Baghdad, Iraq, on November 26 and held for 118 days.

The peace activist was freed on March 23 in a multi-national military operation involving the SAS.

Mr Kember, aged 74, from Pinner, north west London, had been visiting the country with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Canada-based international peace group, and taken hostage with three fellow campaigners.

The others were Canadians Mr Loney and Mr Sooden, and an American, Tom Fox.

Mr Fox was found shot dead in Baghdad in March in the affluent Mansour district.

During yesteray's meeting at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation in London, Mr Kember and his colleagues said they were "immensely sad" Mr Fox was not with them.

They added: "It was on this day a year ago our captors threatened to execute us. This ultimatum, unknown to us, was a source of extreme distress for our families, friends and colleagues. We understand a number of men alleged to be our captors have been apprehended, charged with kidnapping, and are facing trial in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.

"We have been asked by the police in our respective countries to testify.

"After much reflection upon our traditions, both Sikh and Christian, we are issuing this statement."

They said the "catastrophic" violence in Iraq was "inextricably linked" to the US-led invasion and occupation.

"As for many others, the actions of our kidnappers were part of a cycle of violence they themselves experienced. While this is no way justifies what the men charged with our kidnapping are alleged to have done, we feel this must be considered in any potential judgment," they said.

The statement added the campaigners "categorically" opposed the death penalty.

They said: "Kidnapping is a capital offence in Iraq and we understand some of our captors could be sentenced to death.

"The death penalty is an irrevocable judgment. It erases all possibility that those who have harmed others, even seriously, can yet turn to good. We oppose the death penalty."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 9, 2006
Words:619
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