Taliban release Greek kidnapped from Pakistan 6 months ago
hussain | April 9, 2010 at 09:23 amby
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CHITRAL: Professor Athanasios Lerounis, a Greek social worker who was kidnapped by Nuristan-based Afghan Taliban from Bamburet valley in Pakistan’s mountainous Chitral district six months ago, reached here Wednesday, official sources said on Thursday.
Professor Athanasios Lerounis was handed over to the Pakistani authorities in Orsun village of Chitral along the Afghan border early on Wednesday,” the sources said requesting anonymity.
Though the Taliban were demanding release of four important Taliban leaders, only one Afghan Taliban commander, Rahmatuddin Nuristani, was set free to secure the safe release of Prof Lerounis, the sources said. The commander, also known as Rahmatuddin Siddiqui, was arrested by the security forces in a raid in Swabi district of NWFP.
Some sources said the government also paid ransom to secure the safe release of the Greek national. Chitral’s District Coordination Officer Rahmatullah Wazir, however, insisted that his release was secured unconditionally by Pakistan’s security agencies.
The law-enforcement agencies produced the Greek social worker in a court in Chitral city to record his statement but journalists were not allowed to meet him. He was later shifted to an undisclosed location and was reportedly in the care of the intelligence agencies.
Prof Athanasios was kidnapped on September 7, 2009 from the Kalash-Dur, a wood-hewn museum built by him in Baroon village in Bumboret with financial assistance from the Hellenic Aid Society of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to preserve and showcase the Kalash culture.
He was kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban and was shifted to the bordering Afghan province of Nuristan. The kidnappers killed a policeman and injured two others, including a cop and Prof Athanasios’ servant, when they offered resistance to foil the kidnapping bid.
At least three delegations comprising elders from Chitral, including notables from the Kalash valleys, visited Nuristan to secure the release of Prof Athanasios. Though they failed to secure his release, they brought pictures of the kidnapped Greek national and conveyed Taliban’s demands to the government.
The Afghan Taliban were demanding the release of their three top commanders including Mulla Obaidullah, former spokesman Ustad Yasir and Rahmatuddin Siddiqui from the captivity of the security agencies in Pakistan. There were reports of a rift in Afghan Taliban ranks on the issue as some were critical of the kidnapping of the Greek national from Pakistani territory.
Mulla Dost Mohammad, the Taliban ’shadow’ governor of Nuristan, was reportedly inflexible on the issue while other Taliban figures wanted to be flexible. The Pakistani authorities, it was learnt, were willing much earlier to free Taliban commander Rahmatuddin Siddiqui in exchange for Prof Athanasios.
The Kalash people also staged protests time and again, asking the government to secure the safe release of their Greek benefactor and even threatened to migrate from the valley if he was not recovered.
Prof Athanasios first came to Chitral in 1994 as a tourist and visited the Kalash valley of Bamburet, Birir and Rambor. He developed fascination for the Kalash culture and later as chairman of the NGO, Greek Volunteers, he worked hard to preserve and protect the unique Kalash culture.
The museum he built also housed a small dispensary and a school for the Kalash people. He also worked selflessly for the Muslim community living in the area and a jirga of local three times visited Nuristan to prevail upon the Afghan Taliban to release him.
When contacted, the district administration officials declined to confirm the swap of the Afghan militant and paying ransom for the release of the Greek national.
Dr Zainul Wahab, an archaeologist and close friend of Prof Athanasios while expressing happiness over the latter’s safe release said: "Prof Athanasios is a sincere friend of Pakistan and its people including the Kalash community. He is an important Greek academic and his only agenda is to serve humanity," he added.
He said Prof Athanasios liked Pakistan and visited the country every summer to spend time in Chitral and oversee the humanitarian projects he was supervising and funding for the people of the valley.
Professor Athanasios collected donations to build schools, clinics, water tanks, potable water supply schemes, maternity homes and completed more than 20 projects with endowments from donor in Greece.
The Kalash people along with the Muslim residents in Bamburet valley celebrated his safe release and expressed jubilation over the return of the volunteer who served them selflessly for years, sources said.
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