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Aid volunteers willing to take risks in Iraq
30 November 2005
by Oliver Moore

Toronto, Canada: An aid group struggling with the kidnapping of its members in Iraq said volunteers are typically willing to take risks in the violent country because of strong beliefs on social justice.

Christian Peacemaker Teams has sent volunteers to the world's hot spots for years, but was rocked this week by the kidnapping of several members, including American Tom Fox and Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden and Briton Norman Kember.

The group has run a number of missions to Iraq, several of them led by Loney.

The hostages were shown Tuesday in video that was broadcast on the Arab television news network Al-Jazeera. A previously unknown militant group, whose name has been translated as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and called the men "spies working for the occupying forces" under the guise of a Christian aid group.

William Payne, a spokesman for CPT, said that volunteers are well aware of the dangers they face.

"I continue to believe, and I think Jim (Loney) believes, that a just peace is possible without violence," he said, his voice heavy with emotion.

Payne said that his group would welcome military assistance in freeing the men, but not if it led to more violence.

"That belief that Jim has, that I share, means that you have to stand by your word," he added. "Soldiers are asked to give their lives for bringing a different kind of peace that we don't believe in."

Payne, who remains hopeful that the team will be released, said volunteers try to improve their safety by building strong relationships with local organizations. They rely on the opinion of these locals when weighing the security situation.

The group typically avoids the heavy security apparatus in which most foreigners take solace. A member of a previous mission said group members lived outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad and avoided armored vehicles that drew attention, preferring to walk or use local buses.

Loney had a close call in Iraq two years ago, when a truck he was traveling in skidded off the Basra-Baghdad highway and rolled over. He survived, but a fellow volunteer named George Weber was thrown from the vehicle and died.