AMMAN, Jordan – Nepal's foreign minister confirmed Monday that 12 Nepalese workers had been kidnapped in Iraq, while the Jordan-based services company that employed them said it was trying to determine their fate.
In Katmandu, Foreign Minister Prakash Mahat (search) said he confirmed through the Nepalese embassy in Saudi Arabia, the nearest mission to Iraq, that the workers were kidnapped just after they crossed the border into Iraq from Jordan.
"We have urged the kidnappers to set them free," Mahat said.
On Friday, an Iraqi militant group posted a statement on its Web site claiming to have kidnapped the Nepalese workers but making no specific demands.
On Sunday, the Web site showed photos of 12 men it claimed were the hostages. The group has been linked to past unfounded claims of kidnappings.
Iyad Mansoor, director-general of the Morning Star Company (search), a Jordan-based services firm, told The Associated Press the 12 were its workers but said the company had not confirmed they were kidnapped. He said he knew they were missing.
"We are trying our best to find out if the Nepalese workers," Mansoor said.
Mansoor declined to say what his company was doing to ensure the safe return of the Nepalese workers. He said the workers' immediate supervisor was another Jordan-based firm, called Besharat and Partners (search), which enlists workers for employment, mainly in the construction sector in Iraq.
Repeated attempts to reach Besharat and Partners failed on Monday. Company officials did not answer their telephones.
Mansoor said Besharat had subcontracted 67 Nepalese for construction work in Iraq through Morning Star, which enlists Nepalese laborers through the Nepal-based Moonlight Company (search) to work in factories in Jordan.
He said of the 67, who left for neighboring Iraq from Jordan overland on Thursday, 12 Nepalese — traveling in two cars — disappeared near the western Iraqi city of Ramadi. He declined to elaborate or say where his information came from.
Nepal — an impoverished South Asian nation — forbids its citizens from working in Iraq because of security concerns. An estimated 17,000 Nepalese are believed to have slipped into the war-ravaged country from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and about 200,000 work elsewhere in the Gulf.
Scores of foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq in recent months by insurgents and criminal gangs seeking to extort money or pressure foreign troops and companies to leave the country.
Nepal has sent no troops to Iraq despite requests from the United States. Armed Nepalese personnel work for security firms guarding foreign contractors in Iraq.