German tells of kidnapping in Somalia

10th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

10 February 2004 , NAIROBI - Despite spending 10 days in the wilds of Somalia in the hands of often jittery gunmen, United Nations security officer Rolf Helmrich was able on Tuesday to see the humorous side of his ordeal. "It was funny in a way," Helmrich told a news conference at a UN office in Nairobi two days after he was flown to freedom. The hostage takers, he said, "wanted me to be their commander." The captors seemed impressed with the military knowledge of the former lieutenant-colonel in the Germa

10 February 2004

NAIROBI - Despite spending 10 days in the wilds of Somalia in the hands of often jittery gunmen, United Nations security officer Rolf Helmrich was able on Tuesday to see the humorous side of his ordeal.

"It was funny in a way," Helmrich told a news conference at a UN office in Nairobi two days after he was flown to freedom. The hostage takers, he said, "wanted me to be their commander."

The captors seemed impressed with the military knowledge of the former lieutenant-colonel in the German Air Force. He identified one of their assault rifles as an East German-made AK-47 and could distinguish different types of rocket-propelled grenades in their arsenal.

The militia in turn showed him that the grenades have multiple uses. "I was sleeping on a mat and the corners kept blowing up in the wind, so they gave me grenades to weigh it down," Helmrich said with a grin. "I was sleeping with two grenades on either side of my head."

About a dozen armed militia abducted Helmrich in broad daylight on January 29 at a roadblock near the southern town of Jilib, disarming his two bodyguards "just like that."

Helmrich, 60, spent his entire captivity in the open air, walking by his own estimation some 50 kilometres. "I never saw a house, I never saw a bed, I never saw a toilet in the 10 days," he said.

Each day, his main meal consisted of a tin of tuna chunks in vegetable oil. "You will have to look for a proper recipe to make me eat tuna again, maybe fried with a little onion and garlic."

Last weekend he was released into the hands of four members of the Juba Valley Alliance, a military grouping that is the closest thing to a local government in southwestern Somalia.

Yet the moment of his release was the most frightening for Helmrich. As he was led away, he heard three shots that made him fear for his life. But it turned out it was merely a sign for the drivers to fetch their passengers.

Somalia has been dangerous territory for UN and other aid workers throughout its 12 years of anarchic civil war. Abduction has become a favoured money-making tactic of rogue militia groups that roam the land.

UN policy is not to pay ransom and the UN did not pay for Helmrich's freedom, humanitarian co-ordinator Maxwell Gaylard said Tuesday.

Yet ransom - rather than a political grudge against the UN - was in all likelihood the motivation, Helmrich acknowledged. "I was just the first white person to come through that checkpoint," he said.

Gaylard said the UN has withdrawn its international staff from southwestern Somalia and is reassessing its operating policies in light of the abduction. "We will sit down with Rolf, look at our procedures and see whether we need to tighten them," he told reporters.

Helmrich said he would like to return to Somalia. "I still think I can calculate the risks I am taking," he said. "We in the UN have to do something so as to bring about a solution for that country."

DPA
Subject: German news 

 

 

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