Freed Britons turned against Kurd captors: 'We were not anti-them initially. . . But something happened over the past few days, something deplorable'

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The Independent Online
TANIA MILLER and David Rowbottom smiled with grateful relief for camera crews recording their first day of freedom, but their grim account of five weeks' captivity may yet prove that Turkey's Kurdish rebel's new hostage-taking tactic is a double- edged sword.

The kidnapping certainly raised the profile of the Kurds' struggle for an independent state and may have scared away some tourists from Turkey, as the rebels intended. But there was no 'Stockholm Syndrome' - where captives develop a friendship for their captors - or any doubt about the young couple's anger at their five- week ordeal.

'We certainly weren't anti-them initially, because we could see their cause. We met a few people and thought obviously some things happened to push them into this,' Mr Rowbottom said at a brief photo- opportunity at Ankara airport. 'But something happened over the past few days, something deplorable, affecting our opinion of them.'

The couple cancelled a news conference at which they had promised to say exactly what had occurred. But they had already said they had been told seven times 'from day 10' their release was imminent, a knife-edge situation that may have worsened in the final days. A senior diplomat involved in the case said the guerrillas had been 'quite merciless'.

Mr Rowbottom, 28, an engineer from Stockport, and his cousin, Ms Miller, also 28, an Anglo-Australian nurse from Brisbane, had been well into a round-the-world bicycling trip to Australia when they took a fateful decision to visit the volcanic crater of Mount Nemrut near Lake Van in eastern Turkey.

They were stopped by a group of armed men who took them over to some rocks. 'That was scary,' Mr Rowbottom said. 'After that we just thought they were killers who were just going to use us.'

The routine was long marches through mountain ranges night after night. By day, sleep was difficult while trying to whisk away a plague of fleas, midges and horseflies. Food was a rudimentary diet of stale bread, cheese and olives. Hot food was only served at big guerrilla camps, mostly coming from nearby villages. They were also bombed by Turkish warplanes pursuing the Kurdish rebels, who have been fighting in mainly Kurdish south-east Turkey for the past nine years, in which time 6,900 people have been killed.

Ms Miller had a gash below her knee from stumbling against a tree during a night march, both had been very sick three weeks ago and neither had slept much for the past two days and nights. Considering their experiences, the couple seemed to be in high spirits.

Champagne and the first wash for 10 days greeted them after their release near Lake Van, where a British and an Australian diplomat had been waiting for weeks to help in their first hours of freedom. Debriefing by the Turkish security forces was 'excellent, we just sat and talked. No pressure,' Mr Rowbottom said.

Future plans included a trip back to Britain, probably today, for reunions with relatives. After that Ms Miller said they would buy a new pair of mountain bikes, to replace the pair they feared had been thrown into Lake Van by their kidnappers, and return to Turkey to use their onward ticket for Pakistan, from where they would continue overland to Australia.

'It's still all sinking in,' Ms Miller said, gripping Mr Rowbottom's hand and looking at their tightly interlocked fingers. 'We've had to do a lot of this (holding hands) to make it through.'

(Photograph omitted)