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Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria
BBC
Mon, 15 Apr 2019 09:15

Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria

BBC
Mon, 15 Apr 2019 09:15

Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria




The Red Cross is seeking information about three staff members abducted in Syria five and a half years ago.In its first detailed statement on the incident, it says Louisa Akavi, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes Louisa Akavi, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes were seized in October 2013 while travelling to Idlib province in north-western Syria.Ms Akavi was held by the Islamic State (IS) group and there is evidence she was alive in late 2018, the Red Cross says.The fate of Mr Rajab and Mr Bakdounes is not known.Ms Akavi, a citizen of New Zealand, is a 62-year-old nurse who has carried out 17 field missions. Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, both Syrian nationals, worked as drivers who delivered humanitarian assistance in the country.New Zealand says that a special forces team has been trying to locate Ms Akavi."This has involved members of the NZDF [New Zealand Defence Force] drawn from the Special Operations Force, and personnel have visited Syria from time to time as required," said Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters."This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her."



He said there were "a number of operational or intelligence matters the government wont be commenting on".The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke years of silence on the case when it went public with Ms Akavis name, but New Zealands prime minister said she believes the nurse should not have been identified.Jacinda Ardern refused to take questions on the case at her weekly news conference on Monday. "It absolutely remains the governments view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain," she said. There are increased concerns for Ms Akavis safety following the fall of the last territory held by IS near the Iraqi border last month. "The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues. Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries," said Dominik Stillhart, the ICRCs director of operations. "We call on anyone with information to please come forward. If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release." Is this the end for Islamic State?

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"We are speaking out today to publicly honour and acknowledge Louisas, Alaas, and Nabils hardship and suffering. We also want our three colleagues to know that weve always continued to search for them and we are still trying our hardest to find them. We are looking forward to the day we can see them again," Mr Stillhart added.Ms Akavi spoke of her work in a 2010 interview for a New Zealand newspaper. "It does become a little bit hard, but it is the small things. Its working with the national staff who do the best they can," she said.A veteran of conflict zonesImogen Foulkes, BBC News, GenevaLouisa Akavi is a veteran of conflict zones who has worked in Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. She survived the 1996 attack on the Red Cross compound in Chechnya, in which six colleagues were killed. In 1999 she was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal for services to nursing.The ICRC, which has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to find her and the two Syrian staff members abducted with her, knows that she spent time in Raqqa, and that she was alive at the end of last year.Refugees fleeing the last strongholds of Islamic State report seeing her, still working as a nurse. But no-one can know what she experienced, and what her mental state is now.