The fate of two Kenyan pilots abducted in South Sudan lies in the hands exiled former Vice President, Riek Machar. The governor of Akobo, a region under the control of Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) allied to Machar, told The Saturday Standard that Captain Frank Njoroge and co-pilot Kennedy Shamalla would not be released unless the fine is paid.
“The only other option is if Riek Machar says we release them,” said Governor Koang Rambang. Captain Godwin Wachira, the owner of the crashed plane, yesterday said the rebels were demanding Sh20million for the two pilots to be released.
The pilots were taking off to Juba from the Upper Nile state’s Akobo County according to Wachira when the plane crashed. “The two had flown to the town in the morning and were flying back to the capital city when three minutes after takeoff, the plane went down and crashed on grass thatched houses near the airstrip,” Captain Wachira said. He said the plane had nine passengers on board but luckily, none was injured. Captain Njoroge’s wife has pleaded with the Government to intervene in the release of the duo. Mrs Beatrice Njoroge confirmed that her husband has been detained for the last ten days in a small town in Southern Sudan after their aircraft crashed in the rebel-controlled territory Upper Nile state.
“I spoke with my husband and he is frail. He suffers from high blood pressure. He needs urgent medical care. “I am requesting the Government to please step in so that they can be released,” Mrs Njoroge said. She said her husband said they were safe but were being fed one meal per day. Njoroge and Shamalla were abducted and put under tight security on the outskirts of Akobo town near the Ethiopian border immediately after the crash. They were flying the Kenyan-owned Cessna Caravan 5Y FDC plane that had been hired by a Juba-based non-governmental organisation to ferry its staff to the Upper Nile State when the crash occurred at 4.45pm on January 7. The plane had been hired by a Juba-based NGO to carry its staff to the upper Nile and after their assignment, they were to head back home. Wachira said he had spoken with Njoroge by phone and though they were not being tortured, they were living under harsh conditions.
What happened “Captain Njoroge is 61 and he is sick. He has a skin infection. “He told me that the living conditions were squalid. But at least they were being given food and somewhere to sleep. “They are free to move around in the small town, but at night they are under armed guards,” Wachira said. On September 24, last year, the SPLA-IO rebels captured 14 Southern Sudan government officials whom they are yet to release claiming that the captives were a security threat. Kenya’s ambassador to South Sudan Mr Cleland Leshore said he had established contact with the rebels in Akobo but they were adamant that the fine must be paid. Leshore said during the crash, one person on the ground and 11 cows were killed and that is why the rebels are demanding the fine. “The rebel commander communicated with Machar and they are waiting for him to okay the release of the abducted Kenyans. “The government in Juba is also playing a big role to secure their release,” Leshore said.
The crash in Akobo happened exactly ten years after Captain Njoroge survived a similar crash at Ruai on the outskirts of Nairobi in 2007. Captain Njoroge and his co-pilot were flying a Buffalo DHC 5 belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross to Bardere, Somalia for a humanitarian mission.