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Wed 27 Feb 2008 10:48 AM

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Militants release video of British hostage

One of five Britons being held in Iraq shown in video aired by Al Arabiya television.

One of five Britons held hostage in Iraq since May was shown in a video aired on Tuesday by Al Arabiya television, which said the captive called for the release of nine Iraqis in return for their freedom.

The Britons - a computer instructor and his four bodyguards - were seized by a Shi'ite militant group from inside an Iraqi Finance Ministry building in a brazen raid in Baghdad last May.

"My name is Peter... I have been held here for nearly eight months now," a man said on the undated video.

Al Arabiya said he called on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to free nine Iraqis to gain the release of the five.

"It's as simple as that. It's a simple exchange of people... That's all they want. Just to have their people released and we can go home," he said.

In a statement shown by the Dubai-based television station, a group calling itself the Shi'ite Islamic Resistance in Iraq said: "We are addressing you the British people and not your government because you are keener than your government and your Queen [for the release of the five]."

The statement indicated that some or all of the nine Iraqis were held by US-forces but there was no confirmed information about their identity.

There was no sign of weapons or of militants in the video.

The hostage appeared tired but not distressed. He had a scraggly beard and wore what appeared to be a white and black track suit.

"I miss my family a lot and the only thing I want is to get out of here. I tell Gordon Brown: Free their prisoners and we can go home," the man said in remarks dubbed into Arabic by the television.

Britain condemned the video, which it said was distressing to the families of the hostages.

"We urge those holding the group to release them immediately," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

"No matter what the cause, holding hostages is never justified and is never a way of making progress on any issue," it said.

Militants holding the five Britons released a video last December showing another of the hostages, who identified himself as Jason, saying they would kill one of the five unless Britain withdrew its troops from Iraq.

The December video gave Britain a deadline of 10 days to withdraw its troops but there was no sign that any of the hostages were subsequently killed.

Most of Britain's troops are stationed in the mainly Shi'ite south of Iraq.

Britain, one of Washington's staunchest allies in Iraq, handed security to Iraqi forces on December 16 for Basra, the last of the four provinces it controlled in the south.

At that time Britain had about 4,500 troops left in Iraq, less than 10% of the force sent by former prime minister Tony Blair to join the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Blair's successor Brown has said the force will shrink to 2,500 by mid-2008, including a small training mission and a rapid response team on standby. (Reuters)

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