A Japanese doctor and a Dutch nurse kidnapped in Somalia last September while working for a French medical charity have been freed, the organization said on Wednesday.
“Medecins du Monde announces the release of its two volunteers, Keiko Akahane and Wilhem Sools, abducted on Sept. 22, 2008, in Ethiopia and held in Somalia. They were freed at midday [9am GMT] and are safe,” the organization said.
“The agency welcomes the release and expresses solidarity with other people still being held in Somalia and calls for their quick release,” the Paris-based charity said in a statement on its Web site.
A armed Somali group that snatched the pair in a drought-stricken village in Ethiopia had demanded US$3 million in ransom, but the agency did not say whether any money was paid for their freedom.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen expressed delight at news of the pair’s release, adding that Dutchman Sools and his Japanese colleague Akahane appeared to be in good health.
“Minister Verhagen is happy for Mr Sools and his family that this difficult period is now over,” a foreign ministry statement said, while also praising Medecins du Monde’s “ardent efforts” to secure their release.
Akahane’s mother Chieko told the Japan Broadcasting Corporation that she was relieved to hear of the release but would only feel at ease when she saw her daughter.
Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone also welcomed the news while urging nationals to refrain from visiting trouble spots around the world.
“I am delighted and congratulate Ms Akahane, her family and others concerned,” Nakasone said in a statement.
Armed gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings across the lawless Horn of Africa country, often targeting either foreigners or Somalis who are working with international organizations to demand ransoms.
At the weekend, two foreign journalists, a Briton and a Spaniard were freed after almost six weeks in captivity in Somalia’s breakaway Puntland state.
On Tuesday, gunmen killed a Somali aid worker with the World Food Programme (WFP) in the violence-plagued nation’s southern Gedo region, making him the agency’s third worker to be slain in since August last year.
In November, gunmen raided an airstrip in central Somalia and kidnapped four foreign aid workers with the French NGO Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) and their two pilots.
Aid organizations have warned that one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises is unfolding in Somalia and complained that attacks and kidnappings had made their operations virtually impossible to sustain.
The WFP said 3.25 million of Somalia’s 10 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance.