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Venezuela hostage hails French commando

Published on 26/01/2004

CARACAS, Jan 25 (AFP) - A French student in Venezuela, freed from kidnappers after 46 days, told AFP Sunday that a French policeman who took part in the raid had saved her life.

Stephanie Minana, a 25-year-old student in Spanish, was kidnapped on December 8 by a group of eight people and held for ransom as she was returning to her brother’s home in Valera, 500 kilometers (310 miles) southwest of Caracas.

Venezuelan police killed one of the kidnappers in a commando raid on the rural hideout where she was held. Seven kidnappers were Venezuelan and one was Colombian.

“As soon as the shoot-out between Venezuelan authorities and my captors started, a French policeman rushed toward me, gun in hand, ready to shoot to protect me,” she said.

Minana, who was resting Sunday at the French ambassador’s residence here, declined to name the French officer, whom she called a “wonderful policeman.”

Minana was held captive in Agua Santa, located 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Valera, where she said she was held “in the open air, exposed to rain, cold and the flu” and with no access to “books or radio.”

A French embassy source said Saturday that, before the raid, the kidnappers had asked Minana’s family for less than USD 126,000 after initially demanding more than USD 2 million.

It is “so good to be alive,” Minana said, adding that she has yet to absorb what happened to her.

To avoid “thinking about death all the time, every second,” she said she “never stopped praying and thinking about my family.”

“I fought with love and this love saved me,” she said. “I thought about my family as soon as I was taken from the bandits by police.”

Citing the “ongoing investigation,” she declined to speak further about the conditions under which she was held captive, but sources told AFP on Saturday that she had been “highly mistreated and shackled.”

She suffered from “dehydration and pains caused by her shackles,” according to police, but Sunday she complained only of amoebas she contracted from untreated water.

“I was only fed starchy foods,” she said.

The native of Biarritz, in the southwest of France, said she intends to go home, but only after having recovered “physically and mentally.”


                                Subject: France news