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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK


Hostages taste freedom

The hostages at their news conference

The BBC's Clinton Rogers on the hostages' homecoming
The British aid workers released from captivity by Chechen rebels are to spend their first days of freedom at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

The couple, Camilla Carr, 40, and Jon James, 38, touched down at the air base on Sunday night after spending 14 months in captivity in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

An RAF spokesman said their stay at the base would enable the couple to rest and receive counselling for their ordeal from RAF psychiatry experts.

Flight Lieutenant David Rowe said: "I spoke to them both this morning and they are obviously tired and looking forward to a period of rest.

[ image: Camilla Carr and Jon James leave their plane]
Camilla Carr and Jon James leave their plane
"Camilla Carr is looking forward to a swim in the station swimming pool, but they are really just resting and being with their families."

Ms Carr's brother Raj said he believed the freed hostages were coping "amazingly well" after their 14-month ordeal.

He said: "Seeing them again was a very emotional experience - it was just hugs because there were no words which could describe what we felt.

Mr Carr said the couple, from Lydney, near Gloucester, were tired and suffering from jet lag.

"They need to spend a few days in a safe environment where they can get support," he added.

Earlier in the day, both the UK and Russian governments denied paying any ransom to secure the release of the aid workers.

Baroness Symons: "No ransom was paid"
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons said no ransom was paid by the UK government.

"As far as I know nobody has paid any ransom but the details of this will emerge in the next few days," she added.

A Russian official echoed these comments.

"No ransom was paid for the British citizens freed in Chechnya on Sunday," said Ivan Rybkin, President Boris Yeltsin's representative to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The hostages, both psychologists, went to Chechnya to help children traumatised by the republic's war of independence against Russia.

They were working for a humanitarian aid organisation when they were seized in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in July last year.

[ image: Relatives crack open the champagne]
Relatives crack open the champagne
They flew in from Moscow aboard a plane chartered specially by Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, whose efforts helped secure their release.

This has led to speculation that a ransom may have been paid.

Mr James and Ms Carr will be debriefed about their experiences by Foreign Office officials once they have recovered from their ordeal.

The couple's first statements after their release indicated that they had been held in basements throughout the year and had only been able to talk in whispers, "because the kidnappers were very much excited, they have no money and are desperately looking for ways to get food".

Camilla Carr tells how it feels to be free
Ms Carr said she and Mr James "knew in our hearts" that their families and friends had been campaigning hard for their release.

She did not feel bitter to her captors, some of whom had suffered in the war and had neither money nor jobs.

"They were desperate," she said.

Mr James said they had got through their days in captivity "with humour".

"Day to day we reminded each other what day it was, what date it was, and we asked the people that were holding us, and sometimes they would come and tell us," he said.

Camilla Carr and Jon James explain how they coped in captivity
Ms Carr added that the "hardest thing" had been the "false endings", when nearly every month the two were told they would be freed in days.

On the day of their release they had been woken up at 3am and bundled, blindfold, into a car.

The couple appeared to be in good health despite their ordeal.

Ms Carr's sister, Alexandra Little, who spearheaded a campaign for the hostages' release, said the families were overjoyed. "You can't describe how we feel. It is absolutely amazing."

Ms Little could not understand why the hostages had been freed.

As far as she knew no ransom had been paid.

A videotape released by the kidnappers two weeks ago provided the first proof for months that the couple were still alive.

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