French Red Cross aid worker released after 89 days


French aid worker Laurent Maurice, who was kidnapped in Chad last year, was released in good health last week after three months in captivity, an International Committee for the Red Cross official said.

Armed men captured Maurice, an agronomist, on Nov. 9, leading the aid group to suspend its activities in the region temporarily. The kidnappers, a group called African Free Eagles, had threatened to kill him and two other French aid workers they held hostage unless Paris began direct negotiations.
“Laurent, who was abducted in Chad, is released and on his way to Khartoum,” ICRC spokesperson Saleh Dabbakeh told Reuters.

Another ICRC worker, Gauthier Lefevre, who was kidnapped in the neighbouring Sudanese region of Darfur and has dual British-French nationality, is still being held by different kidnappers, Dabbakeh added.

The African Free Eagles, a group of mostly Sudanese and Chadian armed men, said they had released Maurice “on humanitarian grounds” because his conditions were harsh.

However, the group’s spokesperson Abu Mohamed al-Rizeigi said the main reason was a recent improvement in relations between Sudan and Chad. “This is definitely because of French influence and we want France to do more,” he told Reuters.

The two other hostages held by the group were seized in the Central African Republic (CAR) and worked for the French-based aid agency Triangle.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed his hope that remaining hostages from non-governmental organisations would be liberated soon. “It is unacceptable to target NGOs and their staff,” he said in a statement.

Maurice, was abducted in Kawa in eastern Chad, where he had been working for 10 months.

Chadian President Idriss Deby is due in Khartoum today for a rare visit after the two countries agreed a joint border force to stop rebels from both sides staging attacks across the long and porous frontier.

Rizeigi said his group was negotiating with the CAR government and expected to release the other two hostages “in the near future”.