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Indian nurses freed in Iraq, to reach Kerala Saturday

Thiruvananthapuram:  All 46 Indian women nurses seized by Sunni insurgents in Iraq were freed Friday and will fly to Kerala Saturday morning, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced.

The chief minister said in a telephonic interview from New Delhi that he will be in Kochi to receive the nurses Saturday when they return in a special Air India flight.

The nurses, all from Kerala, are safe, official sources said.

Chandy told IANS that the nurses were being taken in a bus from Mosul, which they reached Thursday evening from Tikrit, to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

"An Air India plane will leave Delhi Friday evening to Erbil to fetch them back," the chief minister said.

"There will be one official each from the Kerala and central governments on the plane," he said. "The nurses will board the flight at Erbil and the plane will reach Kochi at 7 a.m. tomorrow."

One nurse in the bus sent an SMS to IANS promising to call soon.

The development triggered a wave of joy in Kerala, where nursing is a major profession and whose nurses serve in hospitals all across India and in many countries.

The family of one of the nurses added that all of them were on their way from Mosul to Erbil, 60 km away.

A group of Keralites and Indian embassy officials from Baghdad were at the border of Kurdistan to receive the nurses, an official source told IANS.

"They have to cross three or four checkposts at the Kurdistan border," the official added. "Our people are there at the final checkpost."

The chief minister, who has been camping in New Delhi since the crisis erupted, said the latest development took place due to the efforts of the Kerala and the central governments.

He had earlier met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and expressed confidence that the nurses would return to Kerala soon.

"A high-level crisis management group under the leadership of Sushma Swaraj has been formed. It will be doing everything to see that the nurses are brought back safely," he said.

Chandy requested the media not to go overboard while reporting the crisis.

The 46 nurses were put on a bus from Tikrit Thursday afternoon by armed militants and driven to Mosul.

Their shifting caused panic, with some reports suggesting that the nurses would be forced by the Sunni insurgents to work in hospitals controlled by them in Mosul, their stronghold.

But the situation changed dramatically Friday morning when the militants, after serving breakfast, allowed them to speak over the telephone to their families in Kerala.

It was the first definitive indication that the nurses were set to taste freedom.

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