Six medical relief workers and their two guides were released without charge Monday by Mozambique amid conflicting reports about what country they were in and what they were doing when they were captured.
Officials for the the Carlsbad-based Christian Emergency Relief Team maintained Monday that the volunteers, including a Chula Vista minister, were abducted last Tuesday while delivering medical aid in Malawi, the landlocked nation that neighbors Mozambique in southeastern Africa, said David Courson, president of the sponsoring agency.
But Mozambique told U.S. Embassy officials there that the group had been "detained," not forcibly captured, for illegally entering the country, a U.S. State Department official in Washington said. And Mozambique's official news agency said one of the guides is a Briton linked to a group spying for anti-government rebels.
The discrepancies seemed likely to engender even more controversy for CERT, a politically conservative aid agency. Although many private groups providing aid throughout the world attempt to refrain from taking sides in military and political disputes--and Courson has said his group does not discriminate while handing out aid--Courson has said his agency's efforts have keyed mostly on assisting victims of communist regimes.
The six Americans were released to U.S. Embassy officials early Monday morning in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, after each was "individually interrogated" by officials of the Mozambican government, Courson said.
All six, including Ken Daugherty, the Chula Vista minister, were reported to be "physically OK," said Mike Pate, CERT's operations administrator.
Daugherty's wife, Barbara, said Monday she was "very relieved" to hear the news of her husband's release, "like a ton is off my shoulder."
Pate said the volunteers voted to return to Malawi, to finish their mission. The group is due back in the States on Monday.
CERT officials have described the group's mission as providing medical assistance to refugees from Mozambique in Malawi. Last week, Courson said the volunteers were "there to help the civilian population of Mozambique, many of whom are fleeing a communist regime that has been supported by the Soviet Union."
The Americans were supposed to have met Sunday morning in Maputo with U.S. Ambassador Melissa F. Wells, but that meeting never occurred, Courson said. Instead, the six were questioned through Sunday and Monday, then released to U.S. Embassy officials, Courson said.
The State Department confirmed that the Americans had been released and were in good condition, spokeswoman Frances Jones said Monday in Washington.
Along with Daugherty, the group consists of surgeon Fred Leist, 48, and his wife, Lucille, 43, from Seattle; John Cannon, 69, a dentist from Davenport, Iowa; Steven Sherrill, 48, a paramedic from Stroudsburg, Pa., and Carol Roberts, 26, a paramedic from Syracuse, N.Y.
Courson last week identified the two guides as South Africans Peter Hammond and George Bezedenhout. According to Associated Press reports Monday, the official Mozambique news agency AIM quoted its foreign ministry as identifying Bezedenhout as a South African citizen but Hammond as a British citizen who lives in South Africa.
Pate said he understands that Hammond and Bezedenhout were released to their respective embassies. Wire service reports said the two had been released.
Hammond, AIM said, "runs a far-right, quasi-religious outfit called Frontline Fellowship, which is openly supportive of South African-backed bandit organizations such as UNITA in Angola and the MNR in Mozambique."
Ian Grey, an Australian missionary who served 17 months of a 10 1/2-year prison sentence after confessing to entering Mozambique illegally, said after his 1988 trial that right-wing American preachers were flown into guerrilla-controlled parts of Mozambique, via Malawi, after contacts with Hammond, the Associated Press reported.
Hammond's brother, Derek, confirmed Sunday night on South Africa's state-run television that his brother founded the Frontline Fellowship but denied it was a front acting as a link to the right-wing Renamo guerrillas, who have waged a crippling war against the socialist government in Maputo, according to Associated Press.
Courson said Monday that he was "aware of (Hammond's) background. He has been a very good guide for CERT. And he is a missionary, first and foremost."
The Americans met in London on Oct. 21 and flew to Malawi, Pate said.
Last Tuesday, they were "detained because they entered Mozambique illegally," State Department spokeswoman Jones said, quoting information provided U.S. embassy officials by the Mozambican government.
Derek Hammond confirmed that version of events in the Sunday night South African television interview, saying the group had "strayed across the border into Mozambique amongst the villages."
According to United Press International, military sources said Saturday that the Americans were found traveling with supporters of the right-wing Renamo guerrillas. Officially, however, the government said only that they were detained after illegally entering the country.
But Courson said the group had been "abducted" in Malawi by forces allied with the Frelimo party--the ruling party--in Mozambique, a former Portuguese dependency. That account, he said, came from "very reliable sources in South Africa" whom he declined to identify.
"We are gravely concerned that we understand they were abducted in Malawi by Mozambican government forces," Courson said.
Courson said he had a 20-minute phone conversation Monday with Daugherty, but the two did not discuss where the group was when they were taken.
Barbara Daugherty said she also spoke with her husband but they did not discuss the location of the capture.
"I didn't ask him that," she said. "I really didn't get into details about that. It was more of a relief type of call, 'Hi, how are you,' that kind of thing."
The group was believed to have been flown Saturday from Tete in northwestern Mozambique to Maputo, Courson said.
Courson was scheduled to leave San Diego on Monday afternoon, en route to Africa to join the group.