An Indian pilot who was taken hostage by rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been released unharmed after being forced to walk through the bush for five days, said the Indian embassy.
Syed Mazher, 25, a co-pilot for a local airline, was taken hostage on July 24 when rebels attacked his plane after he landed at Walikale airstrip, a bumpy track that doubles as the town’s main road and is the route out for locally mined tin ore.
“He is not injured but when I spoke to him after his release (on Sunday) he said he was made to walk for five days from sunrise to sunset … getting only one meal of rice a day,” Indian Ambassador Devendra Srivastava told Reuters on Tuesday. Srivastava said the pilot’s toenails had fallen off as a result of the long bush walks.
“It has been a great effort by everyone and we are very grateful to get our man back,” he said, adding that two helicopters from the United Nations peacekeeping force had flown into the area to assist in the rescue, while Congo provided negotiators to speak to the local militia group, known as Mai Mai Cheka.
General Baigwa Dieudonne Amuli, charged with the army’s eastern operations, said the Mai Mai gave Mazher up of their own accord and there were no negotiations over a ranson payment.
Congo’s army said $60,000 was looted during the attack, which injured several civilians, but the airline Goma Express said only radio equipment was stolen from the plane which was carrying food to the remote tin mining zone.
“He is greatly tired … he said that he would like to go home,” Srivastava said. Mazher started working for local Goma Express airline in February, he added.
Congo’s east is plagued with a number of armed groups who continue to operate long after the vast nation’s 1998-2003 war officially ended and despite the presence of the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force.