Hostages left dazed but cheerful

THE FOUR Britons freed by rebels in Liberia at the weekend were receiving counselling yesterday at a luxury hotel in the Guinean capital, Conakry, and are expected to arrive back in Britain tomorrow.

Mike Roe, David Heed, Sara Nam and Peter Colenso, phoned home, took showers and slept in real beds for the first time in five days after they arrived in Conakry late on Saturday. They were flown to the Guinean capital with a Norwegian and an Italian aid worker after being freed on Friday night by Liberian rebels.

The fate of another 90 people - all African UN officials, who were allowed by the rebels to cross into Guinea late on Friday - remained unclear.

Choosing to speak to the press through representatives after their arrival in Conakry on Saturday night, the dazed and tearful Britons - three from the medial charity, Merlin, and one from the International Rescue Committee - reported that they had been well treated but were looking forward to a good meal.

"They are amazingly cheerful," said Patrick O'Brien, the British charge d'affaires who flew to far eastern Guinea to collect them on a 13-seater. "They have shown true British grit and I am very impressed."

The six aid workers were being offered an "emotional debriefing", said Francoise Saibe, a spokeswoman for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which organised the airlift from Kissidougou.

"We are a little concerned that, even though they are OK, they will feel guilty about the people they left behind," she said. Emotional debriefing, by two experts from Brussels, had been standard practice for MSF staff who had undergone trauma ever since the Rwandan genocide. The Italian and Norwegian both work for MSF.

"The idea is to keep them together for a while, because they experienced this thing as a group, and to allow them to talk about their feelings in a safe environment," she said.

The West Africa director of IRC, Sue Dwyer, said she expects them to "elaborate in due course" on their experience.

They are likely to fly back to Europe on a Sabena flight which arrives in Brussels first thing on Tuesday.

The Merlin, MSF and IRC workers had been doing relief work in Kalahun, Liberia, for refugees who have escaped fighting in Sierra Leone.

The jungle region in the border area between Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is notoriously volatile and there has been sporadic fighting there for years. Last week, Liberia launched an offensive against what it claims was a two-pronged rebel attack in to its territory.