Chad rebels free US missionary after nine months

Chadian rebels have freed a United States missionary after holding him hostage for more than nine months in the remote north of the central African country, his US evangelical organisation said on Friday.

Steven Godbold, who was captured by rebels in October while helping a local organisation transport equipment to drill water wells, was freed late on Thursday, the Evangelical Alliance Mission (Team), based in Wheaton, Illinois, said in a statement.

Godbold (49) was held by Chad’s rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) on suspicion of being a spy for the Chadian government. Godbold had worked in Chad since 1991 and is married and has four children, Team said.

The rebel group was formed in Chad’s mountainous north in the late 1990s but has been eclipsed in recent years by eastern rebels battling Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno from bases near the border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

”Godbold was released by his captors in Chad on Thursday evening, July 24th. He was released near the town of Bardai in northern Chad, and is presently a guest of local officials in Bardai,” Team said.

It said arrangements were being made to send a plane to Bardai to evacuate Godbold to N’Djamena. ”From there he will travel to the United States via Europe for reunion with family and colleagues, debriefings and medical checks,” it added.

Chad’s Communications Minister said he could not confirm Godbold’s release but added that ”there will be a meeting about this matter tomorrow”.

He said the meeting would be at the Interior Ministry, but declined to give any details.

At the time of his seizure, Godbold was working on a humanitarian assistance project drilling water wells in the Zoumri region, funded by the US Department of Defence.

MDJT leader Aboubakar Choua Dazi told Reuters within a fortnight of Godbold’s capture that the movement would soon free him, and the MDJT has suggested several times since that he was about to be freed, but to no avail.

In January the MDJT said its inquiries showed that Godbold was not working for the Chadian government as it had originally suspected.

”Godbold was ultimately released following extensive negotiations between his captors and Team. Team emphasises 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. – Reuters

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