Vienna, 3 November 2008 - "Security is teamwork, both at home and abroad, and this has been equally true in this particularly complex and tedious consular case," affirmed Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today following the fortunate outcome of the kidnapping of Andrea Kloiber and Wolfgang Ebner of Salzburg. "Bringing the two back home to Austria safe and sound was the goal of the Austrian federal government. We have been working on this for over eight months as a team headed by Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Vice-Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer. Federal President Heinz Fischer has supported us in our efforts through his contacts at the heads of state level," stated Plassnik.
Commenting on the concrete procedure, the Foreign Minister explained: "We jointly developed the procedure and adjusted it in the light of developments. We mastered this situation together and we are all happy to have been able to contribute to the solution together with the teams from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior."
Plassnik also referred to the factors that had made this success possible: "Steadfastness, persistence, diplomacy, the determination not to give up - even in moments when we doubted our own possibilities and those of our partners. We developed our approach and pursued it consistently: a non-violent solution with no payment of ransom, not allowing ourselves to be blackmailed, no financing of terrorism. It was also a positive example of what Austrian diplomacy can achieve. Special Ambassador Anton Prohaska was our pillar in Bamako."
Commenting on the support Austria received the Foreign Minister said: "Mali was our most important partner. President Amadou Toumani Toure is a positive exception in African politics. We trusted him. However, he repeatedly emphasised that a non-violent solution would require a lot of patience and persistence." Plassnik pointed out that the long period of eight months had been difficult for everyone involved. "At the beginning the hostage takers tried to exert pressure with several ultimatums. But we knew that eventually they would come under increasing pressure. Kidnappers do not operate in a vacuum, they are a foreign body in an environment on which they are more dependent for their daily needs - in terms of water, petrol and food - than they would be elsewhere."
"There was important international cooperation, both within Europe and beyond. Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has conveyed his personal congratulations to Austria. Yesterday, I was called by my Algerian colleague, Mourad Medelci, who also congratulated us on the happy outcome of the kidnapping case. Within the European Union we have received support from both large and small partners over the past months," continued the Foreign Minister.
Plassnik expressed her thanks to the Islamic community in Austria and the international voices from the Muslim world, such as Sheikh Al Quaradawi, who had all helped to obtain the release. "Visible joint commitment was another important aspect. Here I should particularly like to thank the Austrian Islamic community under the leadership of Prof. Anas Shakfeh, which issued repeated appeals to the kidnappers," stated Plassnik.
Asked to comment on a possible recovery of the amounts spent the Foreign Minister replied: "There is a clear legal arrangement which provides for the possibility of recovering a maximum amount of 20,000 euros in certain circumstances. But the issue here is the basic obligation of the state to help in emergencies and the solidarity of our society in a case of extreme emergency. We still have no clear indication that this was a case of gross negligence, as laid down by law. At any rate we will examine this question." Plassnik added that the question of whether certain improvements should be made to the current legal arrangements, for instance with regard to the question of negligence, was open to discussion.
Plassnik clearly refuted media speculations concerning the payment of ransom. At the same time she warned against "self-aggrandisers and know-it-alls." The Foreign Minister made an emphatic appeal to the media: "Do not fabricate fake realities about ransom payments! By doing so, you are playing directly into the hands of the terrorists!"
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