Kidnapped Romanian journalists return home

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Iraq on March 28 arrived in Bucharest yesterday afternoon, after being set free two days ago. The journalists — Marie-Jeanne Ion, Sorin Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian — were returned by a Hercules military aircraft and were greeted by their families and hundreds of supporters in the Romanian capital. Aside from their families and supporters, the three were also welcomed back by an official Romanian delegation, including President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu.

Marie-Jeanne Ion and Sorin Miscoci were the first to exit the plane, and were embraced by their families. They were followed shortly by Ohanesian, who was greeted by his sister and mother. The journalists also embraced the President and Prime Minister, after which they waved at the crowd of supporters. However, none of the journalists made any statements or interviews for the media.

Romanian media did interview Miscoci's sister and Ion's mother, who both said that they are anxious to see their lives return to normal after the two-month ordeal, expressing faith that the journalists would be able to overcome this experience. The journalists appeared to be in good physical condition.

Before rejoining their families, the three journalists are being kept in quarantine for two to three days, time in which they will undergo medical examinations and talk to Romanian officials. While the location of the journalists is not currently known, several Romanian reporters were waiting in front of the Bucharest Military Hospital and the Romanian Intelligence Agency headquarters, hoping to catch a glimpse of the three journalists.

The three journalists were kidnapped in Baghdad on March 28, by the Muadh ibn Jabal Brigades. A few weeks after being kidnapped, the terrorists broadcast a tape on Al-Jazeera stating that they would kill the journalists if Romania did not withdraw its 860 troops from Iraq. However, due to efforts of the Romanian secret service and collaboration between several intelligence agencies, the group were freed on May 23, where they were placed in the hands of the Romanian Embassy in Baghdad.

President Traian Băsescu did not elaborate on the details of the journalists' release, saying instead that further details would be given when the investigation into their kidnapping is complete. Băsescu thanked the Iraqi authorities and Romania's Muslim community, most of which is made up of Kurdish refugees and Arab immigrants, for helping in the negotiations. Lastly, he thanked the families of the hostages for "the decency and elegance of their behavior in public" as well as the Romanian media for supporting the government in the release of the hostages.

The Romanian Prime Minister, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, said that the successful outcome of this crisis shows that the government is capable of defending both its citizens and the national interests of Romania, referring to the fact that in the release of the hostages, no ransom was paid and no troops were withdrawn.

International leaders and representatives also praised the event. The United States Embassy in Bucharest said that they are "extremely satisfied that the crisis ended with the safe release of the hostages," while UK Ambassador to Romania Quinton Quayle met Băsescu and congratulated him for his ability to manage the crisis and co-ordinate secret services, especially the fact that Romania made no compromises for the release of the journalists. Josep Borrell, the head of the European Parliament, said that the positive result of this crisis proves "we can never lose hope" and that the world must now continue to fight for the release of other hostages held in Iraq.