Freed troops' families mix joy with sympathy

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The Independent Online
THE fear and worry ended yesterday for the families of 11 British hostages released by the Bosnian Serbs, but relatives of the 23 still held captive were bitterly disappointed that their men had not been freed.

The 11 freed soldiers, all serving with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, included the six men injured in a road accident on the day they were captured. Yesterday they were relaxing in Novi Sad, Serbia, after their ordeal.

The Ministry of Defence said the hostages were being handed over to British control and would be taken to Zagreb, the Croatian capital. After medical assessment they might return to their units.

The families of those released said yesterday they were enormously relieved but sympathised with those who had not had good news from the ministry. Army officers phoned relatives early yesterday morning. Richard Williams, father of one of the injured men who were released, Fusilier Martin Williams, 19, of Holyhead, Anglesey, said: "It has been the longest week of our lives. We were just overwhelmed by tiredness and worry."

Christine Mitchell, of Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, whose son, Fusilier Steven McCabe, 21, was also injured in the crash, said: "It has been absolute hell for everyone, just waiting and worrying. . . . It must be terrible for those who haven't yet had a call from the Army to say their sons are out of there. I would like to see all our soldiers brought home now." His father, Roger McCabe, who celebrated with a champagne breakfast after hearing of his release, said: "It's the end of a nightmare for us. We have all been worried sick for a week. The Army rang us at 4am to tell us the good news and it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders."

Another parent to receive good news was Brenda Richardson, the widowed mother of Jonathan Richardson, 21, of Llanberis, Snowdonia, who was also in the crashed armoured personnel carrier. She said: "I had been very worried and I can tell you I didn't mind being woken from sleep to get a message like that."

The driver of the vehicle which crashed, Fusilier Laurence Parry, 20, is also known to be among those released. At home at Bryn Coed, Eryrys near Mold, North Wales, his father, Gruffydd, and mother, Hilary, had been waiting anxiously. Mr Parry said: "We feel much better now, particularly after all the uncertainty on Friday. That was a terrible day. One minute we thought they were going to be released and the next our hopes were dashed."

But Fusilier Steven Cowap, 17, the youngest of those taken captive, is still a hostage. His mother, Bridget, of Holyhead, Anglesey, was told yesterday that her son was still a prisoner. She said: "It's terrible. The Army have told me he is still a hostage. I just don't know what to do."