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Official: 8 Chinese hostages freed

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Chinese hostage-taking pulls China into a problem it has largely avoided.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Eight Chinese hostages held by an Islamic resistance group in Iraq have been freed, an official from the Chinese Embassy has confirmed.

Embassy personnel have seen the former hostages in person. "They are safe, they are well and our people have seen them," a spokeswoman said Sunday. Three of the freed hostages are teenagers.

The group announced the release Saturday in a videotape, which opens with four men standing and four kneeling, each holding their passports.

"For the good gesture from the Chinese government based on its decision to prohibit its citizens from entering Iraq, the Islamic resistance, al-Numan Brigades, is releasing the eight Chinese workers," a man says in Arabic, according to a Reuters translation.

The hostages were unharmed, he added, and the Chinese government did not pay a ransom for their release.

After his statements, a masked man appears and shakes hands with each of the hostages.

The video was the third featuring the eight Chinese men.

The men were first shown in a Tuesday video, in which they were declared hostages after being taken captive.

In a second video released Friday, the group threatened to kill the hostages and called for the Chinese government to issue a statement saying it would not allow its citizens to work for Americans in Iraq.

In Friday's video, an Arabic speaker said, "We would like to inform you that the Chinese ambassador has defended his position in Iraq and said that he is not working with the Americans."

He then added, "Iraq is a battlefield and no mercy will be given to those who work with our enemies ... the occupiers."

"We ask that your government to issue a statement forbidding the Chinese citizens from entering Iraq and this will be considered as a positive gesture and will make us look mercifully on these hostages," the speaker continued.

An official in China's Embassy in Baghdad earlier had confirmed the men were from China but said they apparently never worked in Iraq and probably had been trying to leave Iraq after they were unable to find jobs.

Although about 40 Chinese nationals work in Iraq, the official said no Chinese companies have ever been contracted with the U.S. government in that country.

Earlier in the week, the group said it had taken the men hostage as they were trying to leave Iraq. (Full story)

"After interrogating them, we learned that they are Chinese working for a Chinese contracting company in Iraq. This company is carrying out the task of rebuilding one of the American bases."

The Tuesday video showed the men in front of a wall, with four standing and four kneeling, and hooded guards standing on each side. Each was also holding a passport.

The camera zoomed in for a close look at each passport, which indicated three of the hostages were teenagers -- 17, 18 and 19 years old.

CNN's Cal Perry, Kianne Sadeq and Kevin Flower contributed to this report

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