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The BBC's Phil Mercer
"Mr Kumar said messages of support were like angels sent to comfort him"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Fiji hostages tell of ordeal
Leo Smith, freed hostage
Leo Smith receives a hug from a well wisher
The nine hostages released by Fijian rebels after nearly two months in captivity have told how they lived in constant fear during their ordeal.

They were freed from the parliamentary complex on Wednesday as part of a peace deal agreed between rebel leader George Speight and the military authorities.

A bar of chocolate was like gold to us

Freed hostage William Aull

The remaining 18 hostages, who include deposed prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, are expected to be released shortly.

Deo Narayan, a backbencher in the ousted government, said the ordeal had been traumatic.

"Put anyone in captivity for eight weeks with armed people and you feel it... the stress and worry, confinement and fear, constant fear of anything bad happening," he added.
Deo Narayan and wife San Tosh
Deo Narayan and wife San Tosh: Reunited after 54 days

For Mr Narayan's wife, San Tosh, it was the end of a long and anxious wait. "Today I'm very happy because my loved one is home, I'm really very happy," she said.

At midday, Mr Narayan and other released hostages gathered with their families at an Anglican church in Suva to pray for the safe return of their colleagues.

Hard going

I'm spending the time with my family - that's my priority

Former Attorney-General Anand Singh

Former attorney general, Anand Singh, said Mr Chaudhry was "reasonably well given the circumstances".

Anup Kumar, a minister in the Chaudhry government, told the congregation he would not wish their ordeal on his worst enemy.

He said messages of support sent by his family during their captivity had been like angels sent to comfort him.
Anup Kumar
Anup Kumar wipes away tears at a church service

Another hostage, William Aull, thanked family relatives who had brought food packages down to the parliamentary complex for them.

"It was extremely hard going believe you me," he added. "A bar of chocolate was like gold to us. A banana, gee that was something."

Chief's meeting

The releases came a day ahead of Thursday's meeting of the country's powerful tribal leaders to appoint a new president and install an interim government.

Mr Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, and most of his multiracial cabinet were taken captive on 19 May when armed rebels stormed the parliamentary complex claiming power for indigenous Fijians.

Released hostage William Aull
William Aull: Relieved to be out
The rebels have demanded that Fiji's large ethnic Indian population be stripped of political power.

Mr Speight has said he is confident his group of advisors will end up dominating the new administration and that he should be the new prime minister.

Emotional scenes

Mr Speight's spokesman Jo Nata said the remaining 18 hostages would be released ahead of Thursday's meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs.

He said they had freed nine captives early as a goodwill gesture and to prevent a "stampede" if all 27 were released together.
George Speight
George Speight: Wants to be prime minister

Pradhuman Raniga, a backbencher in the former government, said they were woken up just before midnight and told to pack their bags because they were being moved.

But they got "an inkling" of what was happening because they were told to leave their mattresses behind.

Mr Raniga said there were emotional scenes as they said good-bye to the remaining hostages. "I'm not really happy because the others are still in," he added.

The other released hostages are former works minister Shi Sharan Sharma and backbenchers Prince Gopal Lakshman, Vinod Maharaj and Leo Smith.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels free nine hostages
10 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Rioting follows Fiji peace deal
10 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight signs Fiji peace deal
04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tall order for Fiji's new PM
08 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
More Fiji hostages seized
28 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels reject military rule
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic split haunts Fijian politics
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Speight's demands
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