After 72 days in captivity, nine Senegalese Denel Land Systems (DLS)/Mechem employees have been released unharmed and without any ransom being paid.
They were abducted and taken hostage by rebels in Senegal’s Casamance province on May 3 along with three female colleagues who were released, also unharmed, after 25 days in captivity.
The nine were handed to local authorities at the weekend and will soon be re-united with their families, Denel Group communications manager Vuyelwa Qinga said.
Those taken hostage were part of a DLS/Mechem team working on landmine and unexploded ordnance clearing under the auspices of the UN Development Programme and the Senegalese National Demining Authority.
Their release was jointly secured by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Development Programme and the Senegalese government. “We have nothing but thanks for the efforts that went into securing the release of our workers,” said Denel chief executive Riaz Salojee.
While being held hostage, all the DLS/Mechem workers received clean clothes, bedding and hygiene products supplied by the company thanks to the intervention of ICRC negotiators.
Their kidnappers are thought to be members of the Movement of Democratic Force of Casamance (MFDC).
The 31-year-old separatist rebellion in Casamance is one of Africa’s longest-running insurgencies. Though largely dormant, the conflict remains an unhealed blemish on Senegal’s otherwise enviable reputation as the only country in mainland West Africa not to suffer a coup or a civil war since independence.
Various agencies have been working for several years to clear Casamance of landmines. In March the MFDC warned against further demining in the region, claiming any such operations should be agreed within the framework of peace talks.
DLS/Mechem will provide thorough medical examinations, counselling and support for the release hostages to be properly re-integrated into their families and communities.
“Denel, through DLS/Mechem, remains committed to rendering demining, training and community education services in support of AU and UN peacekeeping operations,” Salojee said in an indication the hostage incident would not deter the South African defence industry parastatal from continued demining work on the continent.
DLS/Mechem has been approved by the UN as an official demining and unexploded ordnance clearer. It has puts is expertise to work on the African continent in Angola, Mozambique, the DRC, Somalia and Sudan as well as in Bosnia, Croatia, Afghanistan and Iraq.