Sahara hostage speaks of relief

Sahara hostage speaks of relief

BBC, 2 november 2008

One of the two Austrians held hostage eight months by Islamist militants in the Sahara desert has spoken of their relief at being freed.

Wolfgang Ebner, 51, spoke briefly to reporters in the Malian capital Bamako before he and Andrea Kloiber, 43, flew home to Vienna.

He said they had been treated « normally » though conditions were hard.

It is still unclear how they were freed, with Austria and Mali denying that any ransom was paid.

The Austrians disappeared while holidaying in Tunisia.

The North African branch of al-Qaeda later said it had seized them, and threatened to kill them should any rescue attempt be made

Mali’s government announced their release on Friday without giving details.

‘No money’

On Saturday, they appeared at the presidential palace in Bamako along with with President Amadou Toumani Toure and Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

« The conditions of detention were harsh, it was not at all easy, but we were treated normally, » Mr Ebner said.

« We are happy to be Austrians. Our compatriots can’t image how secure their lives are in Austria, and what the rest of the world lives like. »

Ms Plassnik described the release as a « small miracle », and thanked the Malian president and authorities for their help « in making the release possible ».

Mr Toure said that his country had not received « any money for some kind of financial transaction » to free the hostages.

He attributed their liberation to the efforts of the Malian secret service and local elders.

Mr Ebner and Ms Kloiber arrived back in Vienna late on Saturday evening, where they were taken by helicopter to a military hospital for health checks.

They were in relatively good health, said officials.