Thiruvananthapuram/Kottayam: A day after Fr Tom Uzhunnalil walked out of captivity in Yemen, Union ministers tried to clear the air about the secretive operations that led to the release of the priest from Kerala.
Minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh rejected reports that a ransom was paid to the terrorists to let go of the priest who was abducted from Aden more than a year ago.
Terrorists kidnapped Fr Uzhunnalil from Aden on March 4 last year. The central government and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India had been trying to get the priest released ever since. The priest finally walked free thanks to the intervention of the Omani sultan, Qaboos bin Said al Said.
Oman did not make it clear if it paid a ransom to the terrorists to ensure the release of the Indian priest but unconfirmed reports suggested that about Rs 65 crore was paid as ransom. It was not clear, however, if the money was paid by Oman or India.
Though the Indian government had not supplied any details of the rescue mission -- external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj just tweeted that she was happy to inform that the priest was finally freed -- tourism minister Alphonse Kannanthanam insisted that the government had a major role to play.
Though Oman said that it interfered on behalf of Fr Uzhunnalil at the request of the Vatican, the West Asian country later rectified the statement, Kannanthanam pointed out.
Singh, speaking to mediapersons in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, said that India strove for the release of the priest through diplomatic channels only, ruling out the possibility of a ransom being paid. Fr Uzhunnalil, however, has not contacted the Indian embassy officials, Singh said, adding that he was not in a position to say when the priest will be back in India.
Fr Uzhunnalil’s relatives had earlier alleged that India was not acting effectively to secure the priest’s release. The priest was brought to Muscat at 8:50 am local time on Tuesday. He proceeded to Vatican after a few hours of rest.
Kannanthanam, who was sworn in only a week ago, told reporters at the Kottayam Press Club that the central government did an excellent job in securing the release of Fr Uzhunnalil.
He said that the Center and states should work together to achieve goals.
He also said that India was perceived to be an unsafe country amid other nations and that could hit the tourism sector. He added that the state government and the local bodies had a responsibility to keep tourist destinations clean and safe.