BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi tribal leader mediating with kidnappers for the release of seven kidnapped truck drivers denied Sunday they had been freed as was claimed by the Kenyan government.
Sheik Hisham al-Dulaimi (search) said negotiations to secure the hostages' release had broken down and there was no longer contact with the hostage-takers.
A Kenyan government spokesman had said earlier Sunday the truckers — three Kenyans, three Indians and one Egyptian — had been set free.
"This is not true, they've not been released," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. "The two sides were unable to reach an agreement, I don't know what's going to happen now."
A diplomat in Baghdad with knowledge of the negotiations also denied that the seven hostages were released.
There was no immediate way to reconcile the reports. Iraq's intensifying wave of kidnappings, most carried out by small and unknown groups over the past months, has frequently seen unclear and contradicting reports over hostages' status.
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the three Kenyans, three Indians and Egyptian were freed and taken to the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad. The three Kenyans were in good health, he said, though he had no word on the others.
The drivers' Kuwaiti employer, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co. (search), had been working with mediators to win the hostages' release and a spokeswoman for the company had earlier said they could be freed within hours. India also sent a diplomat to join the talks, and Indian officials have been saying there was progress.
The drivers were abducted July 21, and their captors — calling themselves "The Holders of the Black Banners (search)" — demanded the Kuwaiti company withdraw from Iraq. They later demanded reparations for the people of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and said they wanted all Iraqi prisoners held in Kuwait and by U.S. forces to be released.
The kidnappers repeatedly extended deadlines set for killing the hostages.
Relatives of the Kenyan men had said earlier Sunday they had received a report from a senior Kenyan Foreign Ministry official that negotiations for the release of the seven drivers were in their final phase.
"I feel so great, my brother is coming home," said Talal Kamal, the brother of hostage Jalal Awadh.
Militants in Iraq have kidnapped more than 70 foreigners in recent months in an effort to push countries out of the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam more than a year ago.