Negotiations between the Gift of the Givers and the captors of South African citizen, Stephen McGown may finally be underway, four months after the local relief agency agreed to take up the case of his abduction. McGown, along with Swedish national, Johan Gustafsson were taken hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali in November 2011, exactly four years ago.
The case is the first taken up by Gift of the Givers (GOTG) since failed negotiations with al-Qaeda in Yemen over the release of South African educator, Pierre Korkie. Korkie and wife Yolande were taken captive by the radical group in May 2013. While GOTG were able to successfully secure the latter’s release, Korkie was killed in December 2014 during a botched U.S. Special Forces raid to free one of its own hostages, on the eve of a breakthrough in negotiations for his release.
GOTG founder and head, Imtiaz Sooliman said the organisation had released two initial videos to indicate to the captors their intention to initiate negotiations, as well as arranging a native willing to travel amongst the regions tribes to hunt for a lead on McGown’s whereabouts. Having found the lead they had sought, questions then arose as to whether those assisting in the search were willing to actually take on negotiations, and whether the al-Qaeda captives were willing to accept GOTG as the negotiators.
“We have come to a point where our case was accepted and on the other side it has been agreed that we are the negotiators,” Sooliman confirmed.
He said their involvement in the case was proving far more challenging than the Korkie negotiations, particularly since GOTG had no-prior foundation or experience in Mali, as opposed to Yemen where the group had an office in the port city of Aden.
A breakthrough in the search finally came on Friday when GOTG were contacted telephonically by McGown’s captors. The following morning the organisation were again contacted and informed that al-Qaeda would be handing over a video, likely to list its demands.
“This gave us a message that the captors were keen to talk to us directly, or at least through a negotiator, and that they’ve made a video for us. It means that they’ve accepted us as negotiators, not only for Stephan (McGown) but Johan (Gustafsson) as well,” he highlighted.
As of Wednesday, GOTG’s Malian negotiator was still awaiting further contact from al-Qaeda as to when a handover of the video in question would take place.
Sooliman admitted they were keen to avoid a similar situation as the failed raid in Yemen.
“We have to be very careful to ensure that even if somebody else has a raid, they have to be very clear that GOTG has nothing to do with arranging raids or getting military involved. We are purely humanitarian, we act in good faith and we want two people out,” he stated. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)