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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

New Zealand opposed releasing name of nurse kidnapped by ISIS in Syria

New Zealand Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi has been missing in Syria since 2013

New Zealand nurse Louisa Akavi has been held hostage in Syria since 2013. ICRC
New Zealand nurse Louisa Akavi has been held hostage in Syria since 2013. ICRC

The New Zealand government said it opposed an aid agency’s decision to publicise the case of a New Zealand nurse held hostage by ISIS in Syria.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it believed it had New Zealand’s support on Sunday when it publicised the name and nationality of Louisa Akavi, 62, who was kidnapped in north-west Syria in 2013.

But New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the Red Cross's claim to have acted with his country's agreement was "balderdash”, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to answer further questions about Ms Akavi on Monday.

"It absolutely remains the government's view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain," Ms Ardern said.

Since her capture, successive New Zealand governments and the Red Cross maintained an agreement with international media to keep secret Ms Akavi's name and nationality.

New Zealand feared that identifying her would make her a high-profile captive, more likely to be executed by her captors for propaganda.

More recently, ISIS has vowed to avenge a March 15 attack that left 50 dead at two mosques in New Zealand and Ms Akavi's nationality could make her a target for retribution.

But Red Cross director of operations Dominik Stillhart said he believed the agency had acted with New Zealand's agreement.

"We would not have made that decision without the support of the New Zealand government," Mr Stillhart said.

The Red Cross is hoping for the return of Ms Akavi and two local staff Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

“I want to tell you, Louisa, Alaa and Nabil, we have continued searching for you throughout all these years and we won’t give up hope to see you once again among us,” Mr Stillhart said on Twitter.

Ms Akavi’s family have not spoken publicly but their spokesman Tuaine Robati said they were still hoping for her safe return.

"Louisa is an incredibly experienced nurse and aid worker who knew the risks of her job," Mr Robati said.

"We miss Louisa very much. We love her and we just want her home. We do not intend to make any further statements for the safety of Louisa.”

Updated: April 17, 2019 04:22 AM

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