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Freed hostages say well-treated by Iranian captors

TEHRAN, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Four Europeans freed after being held hostage by drug traffickers in southern Iran said on Wednesday they had not been mistreated during most of their two-week captivity.

``The first day, they bound our eyes really tight. They seemed young and inexperienced. But we felt they did not intend to kill us and we were not mistreated otherwise,'' 67-year-old Spanish priest Joaquin Fernandez said.

``We knew they were not after money, because they told us they did not want our dollars,'' he told reporters at Tehran airport, where the four captives and their Iranian guide arrived after being released late on Tuesday.

Italian hostage Massimo Cattabriga added: ``Our captors were determined but well-mannered. By determined I mean they were armed and were ready to use their arms at any moment.''

He said the hostages, who included two more Spaniards, had been driven to a handover point late on Tuesday.

There had been reports that the abductors had demanded the release of two jailed fellow drug traffickers. Iranian officials, who reportedly negotiated with the captors, have not said whether any demands were met.

``We did not witness any exchange,'' Cattabriga said.

The Iranian hostage Rahmatollah Soleimani said the captors, members of the powerful Shahbakhsh Baluchi tribe, had given the hostages local clothes to wear to avoid raising suspicion.

They were seized with their guide at their hotel in the southern city of Kerman on August 14.

Officials said the hostages had been held in a remote region between Kerman and the Sistan-Baluchestan province, a major route for drug trafficking.

Iran is a key transit route for drug smuggling from Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, and Pakistan to the lucrative markets of Europe and oil-rich Gulf Arab states.

The kidnapping followed the abduction of three Italians in June during a visit to a historic site in Kerman province. The three were released unharmed a week later by their abductors.

Iranian officials have expressed concern that the kidnappings, plus an incident in which hard-liners harassed tourists in the historic city of Isfahan last month, could hurt Iran's nascent tourism industry.

Iran has been seeking to expand tourism in a bid to boost income from non-oil sources after the economy was hit by fluctuations in the price of oil, its main source of revenue.


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