Brussels/New York, August 14, 1999 — Two Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) humanitarian aid workers who were reported missing in Liberia on August 11, 1999, were released last night along with four other international humanitarian aid workers and ten local staff members taken at the same time.
The two MSF international volunteers are: Irene Martino, 34, a nurse from Italy who previously worked with MSF in southern Sudan; and Trond Heldaas, 53, a logistician from Norway who previously volunteered with MSF in Somalia. In Liberia, both volunteers were working to provide health care and water and sanitation to refugees from Sierra Leone. They were supporting a hospital providing emergency assistance in Voinjama.
Upon arriving at the Liberia-Guinea border, the released aid workers were met by approximately 80 aid workers from other aid organizations. The released local staff members were placed under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Two MSF physicians were at the border to greet the released aid workers who were then taken to Macenta in Guinea for the night. Today they are traveling by car to Kisidougou and then flying to the capital, Conakry. Once in Conakry, the two will receive a special debriefing from MSF staff. MSF has developed a stress management program to help field workers who have been involved in a critical situation deal with emotional stresses they have faced.
According to newly received information, the MSF volunteers were taken by an armed group when fighting broke out in the neighborhood of Kolahun, northwest Liberia, where the MSF volunteers were staying. The armed group did not take them hostage, according to this new information, but held them for their own protection. When matters settled and it was safe for all parties to move, the humanitarian workers were escorted to the border with Guinea where they walked across.
"We are delighted that our colleagues are safe and sound," said Amanda Harvey, MSF Head of Mission in Liberia. "Apparently, they have been treated correctly. However, we are still concerned about the situation of the population in the northwest region of Liberia where there is still much tension and insecurity." Harvey is traveling to Conakry today to meet her staff members when they arrive.
Eight MSF international volunteers remain working in Monrovia and in the southern part of Liberia.
MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.