By Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat

The woman who kidnapped baby Micaela Hunter 10 years ago, Sonja Combrinck, has been released from jail.

Combrinck, who was jailed in November 1996 for 12 years, was freed on parole after serving eight years of her sentence at the Kroonstad women's prison.

Before her release on October 14, she asked "to be released in private and silent circumstances", said Johan Massyn, spokesperson for the Free State and Northern Cape department of correctional services.

He described Combrinck as very happy to go on parole and said that she wanted a private life. The head of the Kroonstad prison said Combrinck had behaved well and was one of the "model prisoners".

Combrinck will be on parole until November 2008. She will be under house arrest, monitored by a parole officer and confined to her district.

An investigating officer originally on the kidnapping case, Captain Elsa Hutchens, said the Hunter family had told her that they did not want to speak to the media.

"They said they wanted Micaela to be a normal child and not be identified," said Hutchens.

In the 1990s, the Hunter family's pain, anger and acute sense of loss moved and gripped the nation over a two-year period.

On May 4 in 1994, Combrinck walked into the Marymount maternity home in Johannesburg, and posing as a Red Cross worker, told Micaela's mother, Alison Hunter, that she needed a baby for a bath demonstration for unmarried mothers. Micaela was just 19 hours old. Her parents, Alison and Bruce, were devastated.

A reward of R20 000 was offered for any information leading to the arrest or conviction of Micaela's abductor.

But weeks went by, then months, with investigating teams working around the clock. All clues, leads and suspects connected to the abduction were investigated.

Then a miracle happened.

In February 1996, almost two years later, Micaela was returned to her parents. The toddler, however, had been renamed by Combrinck, her "mother", as Shannon Alison.

Micaela was discovered when a man, who believed he was her father, walked into a police station in Benoni with the child and told his story. He was later identified as Combrinck's boyfriend, Charles