I died and have been reborn, says freed hostage

  • Thursday, March 02, 2006 - By YINKA FABOWALE and EMMANUEL OGOIGBE, Warri
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The two Thai oil field construction workers released after being taken hostage by militants in the Niger Delta left for home last night, with one of them regarding the liberation as a rebirth for him.

Mr Somsak Muado and Arak Suwanna are scheduled to arrive Bangkok on an Emirates Airline, into the waiting hands of their wives Pranom and Somsri this afternoon (Friday) agency reports said.

Somsak and Arak were among six of the nine hostages freed by the ethnic rebels on Wednesday on humanitarian and health grounds.

Three of their colleagues still held captive by the Ijaw militant youths are said to be in morbid fear that their captors may kill them, unless government urgently met their demands.

Those still being held hostage are Coydy Oswalt and Ruspal Spell, both Americans and John Hudsptich, a Briton.
Sources said the youths want to use the three captives, said to be in good health conditions and believed to be from powerful countries, as a bait to prevail on President Olusegun Obasanjo to accede to their conditions.

Somsak, Thursday told a news agency on phone: “I feel like I have died and been reborn.”
He added: “The first day of being held and taken to the camp, it looked very dreadful. I feared that I would definitely die. But when I arrived there, I felt relieved since they (abductors) treated us well and looked very idealistic, not demanding a ransom but trying to achieve freedom from the government.”
He said the kidnappers, mostly in their 20s, were heavily armed, living at a camp in a forest swamp. The camp was fully equipped with comfortable facilities, including an electricity generator, bedrooms and a television set.

“They took care of us well. They held us hostage because the government bombarded their village,” Mr Somsak said.
Apparently undaunted by the experience, the Thai said he would return to work in Nigeria, as according to him, his career is there and he did not know what else to do.
The development, however, may have triggered off a diplomatic spin-off, as Thailand indicated intention to open an embassy in Nigeria this year.

Thai Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Kantathi Suphamongkhon who disclosed this at a press conference in Bangkok said that the mission was to ensure the safety of the remaining 300 Thai workers in Nigeria, among other things.

Dr Kantathi, who said he had spoken with his Nigerian counterpart, Oluyemi Adeniji, to thank the Nigerian government for negotiating the release of the hostages, offered Thailand’s help on environmental development.

Dr Kantathi said the release of the two Thais was a result of the co-ordination of the Thai government, with many sides concerned including the governments of Nigeria, the United States, United Kingdom and oil firms in the country.

Corroborating this, diplomatic sources said a non-military US government team of advisers had been at work to secure the safe and peaceful release of the Wilbros workers.
Meanwhile, sources close to Okerenkoko, an Ijaw stronghold, said the remaining captives are terribly afraid that they may be killed, if urgent steps are not taken to remedy the situation, most especially as six of their colleagues have since regained their freedom.

A dependable source told Daily Sun that the youths want to use the three captives as a bait to prevail on President Obasanjo to meet some of their demands which include the scrapping of the Joint Military Task Force on Niger Delta crisis and the withdrawal of military in the region.
Beside, the militant youths want to be sure there would be no reprisal attack on Ijaw communities even as majority of the areas are still reportedly being threatened on daily basis by the Joint Military Task Force.

In a statement signed by Chief Bello Oboko, President, Federated Niger-Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), the body urged the President to ensure that the military no longer terrorise the area under the cover of operating with oil companies.

While calling for dialogue, the body believed that a suitable avenue should be set up for both the Federal Government and Ijaw representatives to meet and iron out issues bordering on self –determination and giving them a sense of belonging.

Chief Bello, who refused to comment on why the three other hostages have not been released, urged the Federal Government to send relief materials to the victims of the invaded communities whose source of livelihood was bombarded by the military.

“We want a bill to be sponsored and law made to clarify that the invaded communities are no refuse disposal dumps for further bombardment. We also want the Federal Government to reciprocate the kind gesture towards dialogue by creating a true enabling atmosphere that has been lacking”, said FNDIC in the statement made available to newsmen.

While promising to set up a negotiating team made up of Ijaw leaders, the body wants a halt to the continued devastation of Ijaw land, through oil exploration and exploitation and demanded that all gas flares be checked.

Meanwhile, the four communities of Perezuweikopegbene, Ukpogbene, Seitorubor and Sengbene bombarded by the military have been deserted as the people are afraid of reprisal attack from the military.

The oilmen were seized February 18 when armed militants stormed a pipe-laying barge operated by their employer, the US engineering firm Wilbros, during a series of attacks around Shell International’s Forcados oil terminal.

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