The government yesterday said no ransom was paid for the release of Kerala Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnallil in Yemen.
Father Uzhunnalil, 57, arrived in the Omani capital of Muscat on Tuesday on a Royal Air Force flight, 18 months after he was kidnapped by suspected IS terrorists.
“No ransom was paid, and the reason why Oman got into the efforts for his release is… when direct efforts do not yield results, indirect measures are adopted and what’s important is to solve the problem,” Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
Uzhunnallil meanwhile, has reached the Vatican, a church spokesperson said yesterday.
Father P Varghese, spokesperson of the congregation to which Uzhunnallil belongs, said it would take a while for the priest to return to India.
“The reason he was flown to Vatican is because the head of the congregation (Celestin) to which he belongs is based there.
“Moreover, the need of the hour now is rest and recuperation for Uzhunnallil, as his health has to be taken care of,” Varghese said.
The arrival of Uzhunnallil at the Vatican was also confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs.
Uzhannallil is an employee of the Vatican.
“The release of Father Uzhunnalil underlines one thing that the ministry works quietly and without noise, but ultimately gets the work done,” minister Singh said.
“We are very happy that he has come back safely and I’m sure people will appreciate that we were able to get him out safe and sound. If a direct method failed to yield results, indirect methods are adopted, and the aim is to get the problem solved.”
Singh said the priest had not contacted any Indian officials after his release and he expected him to “do it after he gets back from the Vatican” and it was for the priest to decide when he would come to India.
In July, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had taken up the issue with the deputy prime minister of Yemen. Last year, she said Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had spoken to various countries so that the priest could be released.
The latest pictures of Uzhunnallil showed him clean shaven. His first picture soon after his arrival in Muscat on Tuesday showed him with long hair and a flowing white beard.
The release of the priest became a reality after the arrival of a papal representative to Oman in August and his meeting with Sultan Qaboos, who took the lead in ensuring the rescue.
In March 2016, militants barged into a care home for the elderly set up by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Yemen’s Aden and shot dead many people, including four nuns, among whom one was from India. They took the Catholic priest away. Since then, other than a few videos released from time-to-time, there has been no news of Uzhunnallil’s whereabouts.
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