Rescued aid hostages vow to work on

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH doctor wept yesterday as he described how an armed gang firing semi- automatic rifles stormed in and kidnapped him and his fellow aid workers in Liberia.

It was, Dr Mike Roe said, a "very tough time". Yet all four workers are willing to go back to continue with their work in the world's troublespots.

Dr Roe and his companions, Sara Nam, David Heed and Peter Colenso, had an emotional reunion with relations and friends after flying to London after their release from captivity. They looked tired and strained and said they were still trying to come to terms with their experience.

As they talked about their kidnapping, Ms Nam and Dr Roe, who both work for the charity Merlin, were keen to stress the attack should not jeopardise the vital work taking place in the impoverished west African state. They added that they would consider undertaking other projects there, despite parental concerns.

"We were in Liberia for a purpose. We hoped that the work could be continued and enhanced, and supported by all those who should be supporting it," said Dr Roe, 33, from south London. "No mother likes to see their child go abroad for any reason. But they know what we do and they are very proud of us - for none of us was it a first trip abroad."

Ms Nam, whose parents have asked her to leave such hazardous work behind, said: "I always listen to what my parents say and take on board their advice."

Although they suffered hardship after being kidnapped by the rebel group from the town of Kolahun, the four Britons said they had not been mistreated. They had earlier described how they had won the "uneasy respect" of their captors who were nervous themselves and wanted to return to their bases in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Many of the 100 local staff, however, who were also abducted at the time are still missing.

Mr Heed, 26, from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, who also works for Merlin, said: "There was some shooting, but it was not directed at us. We were escorted quite carefully to the centre of the town and we were treated fairly well considering the conditions. We were given food, mattresses and blankets."

Ms Nam, 30, a midwife from Carmarthen, west Wales, added: "The problem was not knowing what was happening. We were concerned about colleagues. My worst moment was the first half-hour and during nightfall. It really helped that we were all there together. We worked very well as a team and helped each other. We managed to have the odd laugh and keep a sense of humour."

It was, nevertheless, a harrowing ordeal. With tears running down his cheek, Dr Roe said: "It was a tough time but thankfully we had food and we had water. We were not kept with an armed guard with a gun pointed at us all the time, although obviously we were not in control of the situation and did not have the chance to be proactive." Talking about the local staff who were kidnapped, he added: "We sincerely hope they are safe, but we are just not sure of everything."

The three Merlin aid workers were helping to rehabilitate hospitals and clinics destroyed in Liberia's long and bloody civil war. The fourth hostage, Peter Colenso, 28, from Esher, Surrey, was helping to set up a school with the International Rescue Committee, a concern based in New York.

He said that while it was possible for organisations to prepare for dangers such as the kidnapping, for him personally, nothing could have made him fully ready. "You can make preparations and we made them, but it's difficult to anticipate a situation like this," he said.

In Liberia, the country's President, Charles Taylor, has demanded that neighbouring Guinea investigate the cross-border attack that led to the kidnapping. He said: "We believe that the government of Guinea has the responsibility to investigate these terrorists."