Ottawa denies report journalist swapped for prisoners
Published Monday, November 10, 2008 8:49PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper shot down any notion Monday that a prisoner swap was involved in the efforts to free Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung from captivity in Afghanistan.
Fung, a 35-year-old CBC television reporter, was kidnapped by gunmen on Oct. 12 after interviewing refugees at a United Nations camp in the western slums of Kabul, the Afghan capital.
She was released Saturday after a month of negotiations involving CBC staff, Canadian and Afghan officials and her captors.
A report published on Monday in the Pakistan Observer claimed that two Taliban leaders were released in exchange for Fung.
Harper said no prisoners were released and no money was paid to Fung's captors.
"There have been continual reports about ransoms or money being paid. That was not done in this case," he told reporters in Ottawa following a first ministers meeting.
"There has been no release or exchange of political prisoners. This matter is being handled according to the laws of the Government of Canada, the Government of Afghanistan, and that's all I'll say on that regard."
Canadian officials confirmed that there had been some arrests as a result of the investigation, and three people had since been released, CTV's Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife reported Monday.
"The Pakistan Observer is reporting it was Taliban leaders who faced charges of terrorism and murder of foreign troops who were released," Fife said.
"They (Canadian government officials) say there's absolutely no truth to that story."
Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffmann, also denied the report Monday. He told The Canadian Press that the Canadian government did not cut a deal.
Afghan ambassador Omar Samad told CTV Newsnet on Monday that his sources also say no prisoners were exchanged as part of Fung's release.
"There has been no exchange, no ransom," he said.
Samad said it was his information that a raid had preceded Fung's release, but he didn't specify who had been involved.
A press release on the Afghan embassy website made mention of a raid involving Afghan forces on Monday.
"The Afghan government has made it clear that Mellissa Fung's freedom was secured after four weeks of intensive efforts, which culminated in a raid by Afghan forces on a compound near Maidan Shahr, Wardak Province, Saturday. There was no ransom payment involved either," the release said.
Meanwhile, according to Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith, both Afghan bandits and Taliban insurgents held Fung at some point during her month-long captivity.
"It seems like different groups were fighting for control of her, that it was a violent struggle, that at least one Taliban insurgent was killed in the fighting," Smith told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.
"It's not clear whether she was actually physically changing hands or whether different groups were taking control of the area where she was."
Fung describes her ordeal
In a videotaped interview with Afghan officials released Sunday, Fung opened up about her harrowing experience.
During 28 days in captivity, Fung said she was blindfolded and chained to a wall inside a tiny, darkened cave somewhere in Afghanistan's isolated mountains.
As part of her daily routine, she was handed packaged biscuits to eat and a juice box to quench her thirst.
Fung said she had no drinking water, no sunlight, and little sign of hope.
"They kept me blindfolded -- not the whole time," she says on the tape. "The first three weeks they had somebody with me the whole time watching me. So they didn't chain me. The last week they left me and they chained me."
Fung is also seen on the video telling Canada's ambassador that she was unhurt.
She was freed near the town of Maidan Shahr, which is about 50 kilometres southwest Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
International media kept Fung's capture secret so as not to compromise the negotiations for her release. CBC publisher John Cruickshank said that the network had requested the media blackout so negotiators could work for her release without mounting public pressure.
Harper said the media blackout, which began during last month's federal election, may have been crucial to Fung's survival.
Smith said Sunday that if the Taliban had been responsible for Fung's kidnapping it would have been very easy for them to make a political statement by killing her.
With files from The Canadian Press