Imphal, April 9: Abducted German social worker Heinrich Wolfgang got a new lease of life on his 48th birthday with his Kuki captors today handing him over to representatives of the Church after 17 days in captivity.
V. Sithlou, a senior member of the Manipur Baptist Church, and Kh. Chongloi, a pastor associated with the Kuki Christian Church, received Wolfgang at a hideout of the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), somewhere in Sadar Hills district. A group of journalists had gone there, too, at the invitation of the militant outfit.
Wolfgang was freed at exactly 4 pm. Escorted by the Church leaders and a team from the United NGO Mission, Manipur, he reached the state capital at 5.45 pm. The first thing Wolfgang did on reaching Imphal was to telephone his wife and two children in Bonn. A medical team then examined the social worker, looking exhausted and weak.
Wolfgang had been taken hostage on March 23 while returning to Imphal from Maphou dam after an inspection of projects funded by his NGO, Evangelicher Entwicklungs Dienst. The KLA claimed to have freed him not in exchange for a huge amount of money, but in response to a joint appeal by several organisations, led by the All-Manipur Church Organisation.
A KLA spokesman, identifying himself as Lenin Kuki, told newspersons that his outfit had completed its “inquiry” into motive behind German funding of NGOs in Manipur.
On whether ransom had been paid for Wolfgang’s release, the militant leader claimed his outfit was not guided by the monetary factor at any time during the abduction drama. “We had abducted him because we wanted to meet him face-to-face and ask several questions on the development activities funded by his NGO. We had received complaints that the NGOs were not treating villagers of different communities equally. We never demanded a ransom,” he said.
After coming out of the militant hideout, Wolfgang was given an impromptu reception by a group of local women. He was asked to jump over a small fire, a traditional custom to ward off evil spirits.
The German social worker was accorded another reception, this one organised at the United NGO Mission, in the state capital. Edda Keilies and Manfred Wadehn, Wolfgang’s colleagues at Evangelicher Entwicklungs Dienst, and German diplomat Guido Beutler were present at the function. All three have been camping in Imphal since Wolfgang was abducted.
The police, who did not have much of a role in the efforts to secure Wolfgang’s release, arrived in strength at the office of the United NGO Mission, apparently to provide security to the Germans. Like most hostages, Wolfgang said he was treated well by his abductors. “Though I am not used to the local food, I was fed properly and generally treated well. There was no threat, intimidation or ill-treatment of any kind.”