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Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 07:53 UK

Witness: Kidnapped in Darfur

A camp near Kutum in North Darfur
The aid workers were working in Kutum in North Darfur, where thousands of displaced people have sought refuge

Ugandan aid worker Hilda Kawuki, 42, tells the BBC of her surprise at being released from her three-month kidnap ordeal in Sudan's Darfur region.

She and her Irish colleague Sharon Commins, who worked for the charity Goal, were seized by gunmen in Kutum. Sudan's government has stressed that "no ransom was paid" for their release.

Ugandan Hilda Kawuki back home in Kampala
Initially we had mock assassinations to intimidate us
I think I am still in shock.


They [kidnappers] just said we've come to do business and that's it: 'Listen, don't be afraid, really this is just strictly business. We need money.'

Initially what we had was three armed men who walked into our compound and basically asked us to follow them and go into a car that was waiting outside with other men.

I think we were sort of in shock.

We had sent out our guard to get us some bread, because after a certain period there's a curfew, so I just thought it was our guard coming in then I saw he was being escorted by the three other men. That's when I actually realised in actual fact that it was a serious situation.

I didn't know what they wanted until they actually led us outside and we realised you know that that obviously it was some sort of abduction.

We had no idea who was responsible and obviously with our limited Arabic, we couldn't ask.

Aid workers Hilda Kawuki (L) and Sharon Commins (R) arrive in Khartoum airport after their release in Darfur
Hilda and Sharon spent the longest in captivity of any foreigners in Darfur

You do feel your life is threatened. You can't be naive. Obviously you have armed men and at some stages we knew our lives were in danger.

Initially we had mock assassinations just to intimidate us. Later on, we did realise that it was just to get us to... get the right reaction out of us, you know?

But that was just in the early days and that was never repeated thereafter.

'Harsh environment'

We were always exposed to the elements, we were always out in the open - we were out in several different mountains for different periods of time.

We spent 107 days outdoors with no tent, no shelter - absolutely nothing
The routine would be relatively similar but we were always exposed on a mountain.

We spent 107 days outdoors with no tent, no shelter - absolutely nothing. We just had our blankets and the two of us slept on a shared canvas.

When we were first taken it was the beginning of the rainy season so the temperature would go down at night and with the rain - there was added cold.

Just before our release the air was getting drier it was very windy, very little foliage on the trees so it was really hard trying to keep cool on a very high mountain with temperatures of over 50C - it was very very very harsh.

It's an environment you're likely to fall ill in - anybody would as the body tries to adjust to the water, food, the insects.

Map
Where we were located there were no clinics nearby and I don't think it's something we'd have been taken to anyway, given the circumstances.

I'll be very honest - it [being released] took us by surprise.

There was no sign, well, from our part, because it had been a while before we had heard any news.

We were just basically told: 'Let's go, we're going back to our place of abduction.' We were still in disbelief - because until you actually reach a certain place, anything, anything could happen. Anything can happen, so we were not really expecting.

It was a real surprise. I am actually quite surprised. Things just happened so quickly after a long period of uncertainty.

We were really out of the loop [about whether ransoms were paid]. No idea what was going on. No idea.

But it has been good now being back with the family.




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SEE ALSO
Kidnapped Darfur aid staff freed
18 Oct 09 |  Africa
Irish bid to find kidnapped women
06 Jul 09 |  Northern Ireland
Kidnapped aid worker phones home
11 Sep 09 |  Europe

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