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Kiwi PM assures freed hostage

PM Helen Clark pledges support to returning resident Harmeet Sooden after Iraq abduction.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2006 11:55 IST

Prime Minister Helen Clark has assured Harmeet Singh Sooden, who was rescued last week from Iraqi abductors, all help as he arrived here Sunday to settle down to life with his family in New Zealand.

Sooden, a Christian Peacemaker Team member, along with fellow team members James Loney of Canada and Norman Kember of Britain were freed after four months of captivity from a house west of Baghdad. A fourth member, American Tom Fox, was found dead earlier this month.

The group that carried out the abductions Nov 26, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, had threatened to kill all four of them unless all Iraqi prisoners were released.

"This is a deeply traumatising experience and I would think the thing he (Sooden) most wants to do now is go and have a sleep and settle into life in New Zealand again," media reports quoted Clark as saying in Wellington.

She said the government had supported Sooden's family throughout his ordeal, and added: "I'm sure we'd wish those services to be available to Sooden too."

Sooden was whisked away from the Auckland airport as soon as he flew in, out of sight from the media and friends who had gathered to welcome him. He was later filmed arriving home, according to news reports.

Although he has refrained from talking to the media, his sister Preety Brewer told One News: "He is looking forward to seeing his niece again and catching up on some much-needed sleep."

New Zealand's ministry of foreign affairs and trade has, however, said he will be available to talk to the media Friday afternoon.

Born and raised in Zambia, Sooden, a Sikh of Indian descent, studied electrical engineering at McGill University in Montreal. In the course of his studies, he obtained Canadian citizenship. In April 2003, he moved to join his family in Auckland, New Zealand.

Currently enrolled as a Master's student in English literature at the University of Auckland, he is also a member of the University of Auckland chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that campaigns for the Palestinian cause.

First Published: Mar 28, 2006 11:55 IST