A Swedish hostage held by the Mayi-Mayi in northeastern DRC since mid-May was released Saturday evening in exchange for a truck from his company, the Norwegian-based Christian Relief Network (CRN) aid agency which negotiated his release told Reuters on Sunday. Bjoern Rugsten, who owns a trucking firm in the DRC, “is tired and has lost some kilos, but he’s in good health,” Bent Ronsen, director of CRN, said. “Apparently he was treated okay, especially when the Mayi-Mayi commanders were in the camp.”
Rugsten was seized on 15 May, along with a group of Thais and a Kenyan, from a compound of the Thai-Ugandan Dara Forest timber company in Mangina, some 30 km west of Beni. “Yesterday the negotiators took the Volvo truck and drove it close to the Mayi-Mayi camp, then sat down and waited,” Ronsen said. “After about four hours waiting, the Mayi-Mayi came out with Bjoern.”
Rugsten had earlier begged for international help in a taped message heard by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 24 May. At the time, negotiations for the release of the hostages had suffered a setback when the Mayi-Mayi, opposed to foreign occupation of the DRC, insisted on the pullback of soldiers from the occupying Ugandan army its local rebel ally Front pour la Liberation du Congo (FLC). Both armies had reportedly sent reinforcements to the area, apparently to prepare an attack to try to free the hostages. “When the Mayi-Mayi learned of the arrival of the reinforcements, they promptly moved the hostages to a new location,” HRW told IRIN.
In the taped message, played over the telephone by HRW to IRIN, Rugsten appealed to all concerned parties and to the international community, saying, “Please don’t consider the use of force as an option to free us. This will put our lives in danger. I am sure that the governments that are present in the Congo are mature, and I’d ask them also to rethink what they are doing there.”
In recent weeks, the Mayi-Mayi have released seven of the Thais, apparently in exchange for medicines, but they continue to hold the others. “We are committed to keep working until they are all out,” Ronsen said. “We know it’s going to take some time.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions