Ex-Captives Plead for British Hostages
- By Thomas de Waal
- Dec. 11 1997 00:00
LONDON -- Two famous British former hostages have helped launch a high-profile campaign to try to secure the release of two British aid workers being held captive in Chechnya.
Terry Waite and John McCarthy, who spent several years in captivity in Beirut, lent their support Tuesday for a coordinated pre-Christmas campaign to publicize the plight of Camilla Carr and Jon James, charity workers who were kidnapped in Grozny in July.
"There is a roomful of people here and we are really going to do everything we can to see you get home safely," Waite said at a packed news conference Tuesday, according to Reuters.
"If they get a hint that we are all here launching a campaign, that will give them a huge amount of support and encouragement," he added.
Carr, 39, and James, 37, had been working with the aid organization The Center for Peacemaking and Community Development, using dance and music to help children traumatized by the war in Chechnya.
In the early hours of July 4, six masked gunmen overpowered their bodyguard and dragged the couple away. They have not been seen since and there have been no public ransom demands, although the Chechen government has passed on reports that they are still alive.
The launch of the publicity campaign Tuesday marks a radical change of approach to efforts to free the pair. Until now, acting on advice from the British Foreign Office, the hostages' families have not sought any publicity for the case, hoping for a quiet resolution of the issue.
They have now changed tack, saying that this is with the support of the Foreign Office.
"We have kept a low profile until now, but five months is a long time and now we want to make sure they are not forgotten," said Alexandra Little, Carr's sister.
"We feel it is Christmas time and they should be home. We also hope that news of our campaign may somehow filter through to them, wherever they are, and raise their morale," she said.
At a service in the church of St James's Piccadilly after the press conference, the Foreign Office minister, Baroness Symons, read out a message of support from Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wrote "I join you in your prayers for the early release of Camilla and Jon."
The British ambassador in Moscow, Sir Andrew Wood, also sent a message, saying his embassy was making every effort to secure the hostages' release.
Chechen security forces have freed two Ukrainian men kidnapped two weeks ago in the North Caucasus republic, the head of Chechnya's special anti-kidnapping brigade said in Grozny on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
The freed hostages were taken to neighboring Ingushetia pending their handover to Ukrainian officials.