Muslims free our man in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
WE WERE released at about 5pm yesterday. Tom Carver, the BBC defence correspondent, Tony Fallshaw, his cameramen, and myself were taken by the Pakistani battalion, who had provided a valuable lifeline during our detention, to Vitez, where a welcome party awaited.

It had seemed as if the safest way to travel was in a Army helicopter. But on nearing our destination of Vares, while we had expected to meet a British Lieutenant-Colonel, it became obvious that the situation had changed markedly in the previous couple of days. The helicopter attempted to land on a circular heli-pad, but it had not been secured and local BiH (Bosnian governmnet army) soldiers reacted aggressively so the helicopter took off again.

Then it tried to land in the camp itself, which proved impossible because of the dust and wires, which the crew believed might be a hazard.

Finally the helicopter put down on a road about 200 metres from the camp which was our objective. We attempted to reach the camp but the BiH soldiers blockading it pointed rifles, told us to put our hands up, spread-eagled us against a wall and frisked us.

With hindsight, the BiH acted absolutely correctly. They had no advance notice of the flight, and had good reason to believe Bosnian Serbs were using white painted helicopters and vehicles. We were taken to the headquarters in Vares, where we were frisked again, but then ushered into the reassuring comfort of a boss's office.

Discussions continued for hours and in mid-afternoon Col Nayyar, the commander of the first Pakistani battalion, appeared. An imposing man, with two rows of medals, he took hold of the situation with a mixture of authority and deplomacy. A meal was provided. But a formal interrogation, including the preparation of statements at a separate headquarters followed until about 2am. At this point, with curfew in force, we were shown a bunk room where we slept. We expected to leave next morning, but it was not until the afternoon that we were told we would be released.

Throughout the BiH acted punctiliously and professionally. Our helicopter flew unknowingly into an area of high tension.

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