Freed hostage back in Norway after 'year in terror'
Kjartan Sekkingstad returned to Norway on Friday after a year of captivity in the Philippines.
The 57-year-old former hostage spoke about his year of hunger, misinformation from his captors and the close friendship he established with his fellow prisoners.
Sekkingstad said that the food the hostages received while held captive by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas consisted largely of rice, soy sauce, sugar and salted fish, the Norwegian said on Friday morning after landing at Oslo Airport, Gardermoen.
“In the beginning, we were mostly starved. I dont know why, but we were given far too little food. We got enough water to drink but not enough food. Sleeping took place on the ground,” the Sotra native said when he met the Norwegian press.
He said that he and the other hostages were subjected to deliberate misinformation from their captor. Several times, including at Christmas, they were told that they would be released only to be transferred to new locations and kept under the guerillas’ control.
“We packed our bags and left. We spent a whole day thinking there was going to be an exchange. But it was just nonsense,” Sekkingstad said.
He said that the hostages were told about negotiations and various ransom deadlines. The hostages knew that one or all of them would be executed if the demands weren’t met, but they never knew who.
The hostages’ daily life in captivity consisted mostly of the guerrillas trying to avoid confrontations with police and military who constantly tried to overtake them, Sekkingstad said.
“There was a lot of camping in the forest. I suppose we spent about half a day in each camp. There was a lot of walking, sometimes for hours, sometimes all night,” he said.
Sekkingstad and the other hostages – Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend Marites Flor – became a tight knit group.
“We were chained together by handcuffs every evening after evening prayers. Robert and Marites were chained together, while John and I were chained together. If someone had to use the toilet the other would have to go along. We became a tight group [and] we took care of each other,” said Sekkingstad.
Ridsdel and Hall were beheaded earlier this year, while Flor was released.
“It was a helpless feeling to see one’s friend go, but there was nothing you could do about it,” he said.
The Norwegian said that his situation became better after Rodgrigo Duterte won the presidential elections in the Philippines over the summer.
“Then we got better treatment. The food was better. On Saturday, after ten days of waiting and waiting, they said, ‘You will be released tomorrow’. When it happened, I was escorted down through the jungle, and we were met by other military groups. We were transported by plane to Davao, met the president and were taken care of by the Norwegian embassy and police staff there,” the 57-year-old said.
It was Sekkingstad’s Philippine in-laws who paid most of the ransom to get him released, Philippine peace minister Jesus Dureza told NRK this week.
Sekkingstad said at the press conference that he did not know anything about a ransom or any agreements made to get him released.
Home to Sotra
Sekkingstad used the press conference to thank everyone who helped to get him released.
The 57-year-old, who has lived in the Philippines for the past 15 years, left Gardemoen to visit his family in Sotra, located just west of Bergen.
“I will ask for your understanding that I need some peace and quiet. I need time with my family to put this behind me. One year in terror has been a true year in terror,” he said.