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Hostage negotiations remain fruitful for SA paramedic

South African paramedic, Gerco van Deventer remains hopeful while being held hostage in Mali.supplied image

South African paramedic, Gerco van Deventer remains hopeful while being held hostage in Mali.supplied image

Published Jul 17, 2023


Cape Town - Five years and eight months after being held hostage by the al-Qaeda in Mali, South African paramedic, Gerco van Deventer has a team fighting him for a free ransom release.

A fresh photograph of van Deventer was released this week, seeing him dressed casually and appearing to be calm and hopeful.

In May, Weekend Argus reported that his captors had made a request for ransom of R9.5 million.

This week, Imtiaz Sooliman, Gift of the Givers chairperson and founder, said that their negotiator, Mohamed Yehia Dicko, returned from Mali and communicated and engaged with many parties for his release.

Sooliman said Yehia met the chief intermediary, several other intermediaries, elders, tribal leaders and people of influence to convince JNIM (al-Qaeda) to consider a ransom-free release as there was no source to provide the ransom money.

He also met Mali’s State Security to facilitate safe the passage of van Deventer in the event of him being released.

Van Deventer, 47, a paramedic from Swellendam, began making headlines after a video made by him on March 15 was shared.

He had been working in Afghanistan until mid-2017 and had moved to an apparently safer location in Libya when he was kidnapped and kept hostage and eventually sold to al-Qaeda in Mali.

Sooliman explained how their negotiations led them to where they are now.

“The limiting factor in an unconditional release is the fact that JNIM ‘purchased’ Gerco from a group in Libya, and captors always want to be compensated for their ‘investment’,” explained Sooliman.

“Gift of the Givers made an impassioned plea in Ramadaan, the month of Mercy, which is also known to ‘soften hearts’, to release Gerco unconditionally.

“Supported by vigils and placard displays at Pelican Park at the time of fast-breaking, a letter from the Muslim Judicial Council, a video message by them in Arabic, a video appeal from Shereen van Deventer, his wife, and her son, Asher, Gift of the Givers requested al-Qaeda to contemplate an unconditional release, having sent all this material to them.

“JNIM confirmed receipt of all the material within 48 hours.

“Under normal circumstances, they would then send an answer within 72 hours, if they don't agree.

“Two months later, we haven't received anything negative.

“On several occasions, they said it is under discussion.

“We reminded them of our request during the days of Hajj (pilgrimage), yet another blessed time, again the answer was that they are considering.

“Inside information received puts those in favour of unconditional release at a higher percentage than those uncertain. “

He added that both Mali and SA State Security have offered us total co-operation. They've met both sides.

“A letter from SA State Security to Mali State Security requesting assistance in the Gerco case reached them last week,” he said.

“Mali SS has confirmed receipt and has requested Yehia to come back from South Africa to meet them.

“We are in discussion with them on the value of this. We have made it clear to JNIM that this is Gift of the Givers' final attempt as there are no alternative offerings except the ransom-free request.”

In May, another video of van Deventer was made public in which he said he needed assistance.

“And I am requesting any assistance to facilitate, help me build a bridge, to reach the outside world, for me to gain what was taken from me, my freedom and liberty, thank you,” he said.

Shereen van Deventer previously told Weekend Argus they were praying for his safe return and that they had been married since 2015.

Weekend Argus