05/03/07 (B385-A) BBC : Récit d’un “ancien kidnappé” qui a passé cinq mois de captivité dans la même région. ‘I was kidnapped in Afar region’ (Info lectrice – en anglais)

British
embassy officials and their relatives have been kidnapped while sightseeing
in the north of Ethiopia, near the border with its former province Eritrea.


The incident brought back memories for BBC news website reader Brian Hazlehurst,
who in 1976 was held for five months by Eritrean rebels fighting for independence.

Mr Hazlehurst, now 58 and working as a translator in Brazil, describes life
as a hostage in the barren environment.

I was kidnapped after visiting Ertale, the main active volcano, the psychedelically-coloured
geysers at Dallol, and Lake Giulietti.

I was teaching English in Addis Ababa, and every holiday took off on a jeep
expedition or on foot.

Unfortunately, on this expedition, myself, two other Britons and a naturalised
Ethiopian of Polish origin ended up being captured by Eritrean Liberation
Front guerrillas.

The clay hovels we stayed in were full of fleas, lice and the stench of animals

We had traversed the desert from Sardo in the south, expecting to return via
Mekele in the north. But the dry canyon exit route was blocked by boulders,
and we did not have enough fuel for a five-day return journey.

We headed to the village of Badda, hoping to ship in fuel by camel from the
plateau.

I was talking to the village head when a note came by messenger from the ELF.

The moment of capture was pretty frightening, as we were taken at gunpoint.
I thought they would just question us and let us go.

However, they claimed we were already in Eritrea, and refused to believe we
were on holiday.

For them, we had to be spies, missionaries or journalists. Our captors said
only the ELF leader could decide our fate.

Told to write letters

We were held for the first month in a desert ravine. The next month was spent
trekking, usually at night and all night, to avoid Ethiopian Airforce raids.

One of my companions caught malaria, and I was bitten by a scorpion

We were finally interrogated by the ELF leader near the capital Asmara.

We were told to write letters to our parents, but only after three months
did the word get to UK that we were still alive.

We spent another three months in desert conditions at a camp near the border
with Sudan, or in Sudan for all we knew.

The desert temperatures were extremely high. Because of lice and fleas, we
often just wore a towel. We could keep clean, however, as there was pure water
from holes in the dried-up riverbeds.

But crossing the mountains it was freezing cold at night and water for washing
was harder to find.

The clay hovels we stayed in were full of fleas, lice and the stench of animals
kept inside the living room for protection at night.

Diarrhoea and dysentery

I was not badly treated. In fact, they tried to treat us very properly in
accordance with the Geneva convention, but living conditions were terrible
for us and guerrillas alike.

After release was it finally revealed to us that, in exchange for our lives,
the ELF had been demanding publicity for their independence cause, nothing
more.

The leader of one group had a radio and we used to listen to the Voice of
America and the BBC, but never heard anything about our situation.

The first week there was just white rice to eat, and we started to suffer
from malnutrition.

At our insistence, our captors were able to obtain goat’s milk from the nomads.

We made an improvised Frisbee and a chess set and created a golf course in
the sand

We all had diarrhoea and dysentery.

One of my companions caught malaria, and I was bitten by a scorpion, but there
was no medicine.

The last three months, we basically had flat bread and lentils, but that can
actually be quite nutritious.

There’s a lot of boredom in this kind of situation.

You keep up discussions on all of the subjects under the sun.

It would have been suicide to walk off into the desert

You solve the world’s problems until you start repeating yourself.

We made an improvised Frisbee and a chess set and created a golf course in
the sand, using old batteries as balls.

There were guards but we were never tied up.

They realised we would never try to escape, as it would have been suicide
to walk off into the desert – a prison without walls.

Our release came near the end of the fifth month.

The British Vice Consul in Sudan claimed to have entered into negotiations
to secure the release.

Within two days of being taken to Khartoum we arrived at Heathrow, cold, in
rags, feeling lost and full of culture shock, forced to talk to the media
before meeting our parents.