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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 01:53 GMT
'I was kidnapped in Afar region'
Brian Hazlehurst
Mr Hazlehurst now lives in Brazil
British embassy officials and their relatives have been kidnapped while sightseeing in the north of Ethiopia, near the border with its former province Eritrea.

The incident brought back memories for BBC news website reader Brian Hazlehurst, who in 1976 was held for five months by Eritrean rebels fighting for independence.

Mr Hazlehurst, now 58 and working as a translator in Brazil, describes life as a hostage in the barren environment.

I was kidnapped after visiting Ertale, the main active volcano, the psychedelically-coloured geysers at Dallol, and Lake Giulietti.

I was teaching English in Addis Ababa, and every holiday took off on a jeep expedition or on foot.

Unfortunately, on this expedition, myself, two other Britons and a naturalised Ethiopian of Polish origin ended up being captured by Eritrean Liberation Front guerrillas.

The clay hovels we stayed in were full of fleas, lice and the stench of animals
We had traversed the desert from Sardo in the south, expecting to return via Mekele in the north. But the dry canyon exit route was blocked by boulders, and we did not have enough fuel for a five-day return journey.

We headed to the village of Badda, hoping to ship in fuel by camel from the plateau.

I was talking to the village head when a note came by messenger from the ELF.

The moment of capture was pretty frightening, as we were taken at gunpoint. I thought they would just question us and let us go.

However, they claimed we were already in Eritrea, and refused to believe we were on holiday.

For them, we had to be spies, missionaries or journalists. Our captors said only the ELF leader could decide our fate.

Told to write letters

We were held for the first month in a desert ravine. The next month was spent trekking, usually at night and all night, to avoid Ethiopian Airforce raids.

One of my companions caught malaria, and I was bitten by a scorpion
We were finally interrogated by the ELF leader near the capital Asmara.

We were told to write letters to our parents, but only after three months did the word get to UK that we were still alive.

We spent another three months in desert conditions at a camp near the border with Sudan, or in Sudan for all we knew.

The desert temperatures were extremely high. Because of lice and fleas, we often just wore a towel. We could keep clean, however, as there was pure water from holes in the dried-up riverbeds.

But crossing the mountains it was freezing cold at night and water for washing was harder to find.

The clay hovels we stayed in were full of fleas, lice and the stench of animals kept inside the living room for protection at night.

Diarrhoea and dysentery

I was not badly treated. In fact, they tried to treat us very properly in accordance with the Geneva convention, but living conditions were terrible for us and guerrillas alike.

After release was it finally revealed to us that, in exchange for our lives, the ELF had been demanding publicity for their independence cause, nothing more.

The leader of one group had a radio and we used to listen to the Voice of America and the BBC, but never heard anything about our situation.

The first week there was just white rice to eat, and we started to suffer from malnutrition.

At our insistence, our captors were able to obtain goat's milk from the nomads.

We made an improvised Frisbee and a chess set and created a golf course in the sand

We all had diarrhoea and dysentery.

One of my companions caught malaria, and I was bitten by a scorpion, but there was no medicine.

The last three months, we basically had flat bread and lentils, but that can actually be quite nutritious.

There's a lot of boredom in this kind of situation.

You keep up discussions on all of the subjects under the sun.

It would have been suicide to walk off into the desert
You solve the world's problems until you start repeating yourself.

We made an improvised Frisbee and a chess set and created a golf course in the sand, using old batteries as balls.

There were guards but we were never tied up.

They realised we would never try to escape, as it would have been suicide to walk off into the desert - a prison without walls.

Our release came near the end of the fifth month.

The British Vice Consul in Sudan claimed to have entered into negotiations to secure the release.

Within two days of being taken to Khartoum we arrived at Heathrow, cold, in rags, feeling lost and full of culture shock, forced to talk to the media before meeting our parents.



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Eritrea
19 Dec 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
02 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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