Saturday, July 26, 2008
Freed U.S. hostage was Chad rebels' "guest of honor"
U.S. Missionary Steven Godbold (C) stands with U.S. Ambassador Louis Nigro (L) and Chad's Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat after being freed, by Chad's rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), in N'djamena, July 26, 2008.
N'DJAMENA-Freed U.S. missionary Steven Godbold expressed relief to be on his way home on Saturday but said Chadian rebels had treated him as "guest of honor" during his nine months as a hostage deep in the Sahara.Godbold, 49, was captured in October as a suspected spy by rebels in the remote, mountainous north of Chad while helping a local organization transport equipment to drill water wells.He was freed late on Thursday to local officials in northern Chad and formally handed over to the U.S. ambassador by the Chadian government in the capital N'Djamena on Saturday."My main feeling is relief at being released. I am very happy," Godbold said. "I am very happy with everything the Chadian government has done to obtain my release, and the way they have worked with rebel groups to achieve that."Godbold, who is married and has four children according to The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), based in Wheaton, Illinois, said he had found his imprisonment psychologically difficult, especially being separated from his family."But I was never physically mistreated. Nobody ever said a threatening word to me. I was treated almost as a guest of honor. We ate together, we drank tea together, we played cards together and we chatted together," he said.Godbold, of Sarasota, Florida, has worked as a missionary in Chad since 1991. He was captured last October by the rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) on suspicion of being a spy for the Chadian government.
Chad's MDJT was formed in the Tibesti mountains in the Sahara in the late 1990s but has been eclipsed in recent years by eastern rebels battling Chadian President Idriss Deby from bases near the border with Sudan's Darfur region.Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faky Mahamat, who handed Godbold over to U.S. Ambassador Louis Nigro, said the government had made no deal with the rebels for Godbold's release."We didn't launch a military operation so as not to put his life in danger," he said.At the time of his seizure, Godbold was working on a humanitarian assistance project drilling water wells in the Zoumri region, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.In January the MDJT said its inquiries showed Godbold was not working for the Chadian government as it had originally suspected, but on that and several subsequent occasions hopes of an imminent release came to nothing.Godbold's TEAM organization said on Friday his release had followed "extensive negotiations between his captors and TEAM"."TEAM emphasizes that Godbold's release was unconditional and that no ransom was paid and no concessions of any type were made to secure his release," the evangelical group said.TEAM said Godbold would be flown home to his family in the United States via Europe, though it was not clear when he would leave N'Djamena.A plethora of armed groups operate in the Sahara, and several have taken Westerners hostage in recent years. Al Qaeda's North African arm is thought to be holding two Austrian tourists on the Mali-Algeria border hundreds of kilometers (miles) west of Chad, after seizing them in Tunisia in February.
As in the days of Noah...