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Sudan: ICRC team released

08-12-1996 News Release 96/37

Geneva (ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is relieved to announce the release, on 8 December 1996, of Maree Worthington, an Australian nurse, John Early, an American pilot, and Mohsin Raza, a Kenyan pilot, who had been detained in southern Sudan since 1 November. They were taken captive when their ICRC aircraft landed in Wunroc and were held there by Commander Kerubino, head of the SPLA's Bahr-el-Gazal group.

The ICRC thanks the governments of the United States of America, Australia and Kenya for their constant support throughout this crisis.  In particular, it wishes to emphasize the personal involvement of Congressman Bill Richardson of New Mexico who undertook this humanitarian mission in his capacity as a member of the United States House of Representatives.  The ICRC also thanks the Sudanese authorities for their active assistance.

The flight was organized to return home five Sudanese patients who had been discharged from the ICRC hospital in Lokichokio.  Those former patients are still being detained by Commander Kerubino.  The ICRC has visited them on several occasions and will continue to do everything possible to ensure that they are allowed to return to their families, who live in the area.

As soon as the plane was captured, the ICRC engaged in intense negotiations with Commander Kerubino, with the cooperation of the Sudanese government.  On 19 November, the negotiations resulted in a commitment by Commander Kerubino to release the three ICRC staff unconditionally in three days time.  Unfortunately, this commitment was not honoured.  While representations by the ICRC continued in Khartoum, John Early's family appealed t o United States Congressman Bill Richardson for help. He agreed to add his efforts to the ICRC's endeavour to obtain the team's release, and travelled to both Khartoum and Gogrial.

These combined efforts eventually led to the freeing of the three.  According to initial reports, they were well treated in captivity and are in satisfactory health.  The ICRC shares the joy of the team's families, who will shortly be reunited with their loved ones.

The ICRC deeply deplores the fact that this incident has totally paralysed its humanitarian work in behalf of the many Sudanese people needing protection and assistance.  It will now have to consider whether the conditions for a resumption of its humanitarian operations in aid of all victims of the conflict can be met.