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Finland’s former hostages

May 30, 2006

It was just a little while back that three men being held hostage in Iraq were freed by a multinational force that had been tipped on their location. Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden and Briton Norman Kember spent 118 days in captivity. American Tom Fox – sadly was found dead in Baghdad just a few short weeks before the other three were freed.

In April 2000, a hostage drama also played itself out on the airwaves here in Finland. Two Finnish men, Seppo Fränti and Risto Vanhanen suffered the same fate at the hands of the rebel group, Abu-Sayyaf in the southern Philippines. Fränti and Vanhanen were on a scuba diving vacation at a resort in Malaysia, when they were abducted at gunpoint with 17 other people… They spent four and half months in captivity on the island of Jolo in the Philippines. The fact that it took so long for their release was astonishing, yet negotiations for their release started almost immediately… When they finally arrived back in Finland in September, they came via Libya and were accompanied by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja.

Fränti was quoted as saying he would "murder" for a beer upon arriving in Finland. (I am quite sure he got his beer before that.) Vanhanen said that four and half months without alcohol was, "good for the liver" and that going back to work as soon as possible would be a vacation compared to his time in captivity. After it was all over, Vanhanen and Fränti could only use one word to sum up their ordeal: hell.

Fränti later published a book of some of the dozens of drawings he made while in captivity… Helsingin Sanomat interviewed Fränti five years after his ordeal, though further follow-up in the media on these two men is scant (unless you have paid to access Helsingin Sanomat’s online service – where there are plenty of articles about the two men.)

(A picture of Fränti and Vanhanen is forthcoming – hopefully…)

An excellent summary of articles written by HS International about the whole affair is here: http://www2.hs.fi/english/archive/news.asp?id=20000912xx2&pvm=20000912

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