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Kidnapped West Germans Released and Hospitalized

June 12, 1986

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Eight West German volunteer workers freed by U.S.-backed Contra rebels said Wednesday night they lived in fear and misery during their 24 days of captivity.

At a news conference attended by hundreds of reporters, the Germans, who were freed Tuesday, blamed the U.S. government for their abduction.

The four men and four women spent their time since May 17, when they were captured by Nicaraguan Democratic Force rebels, or FDN, in the jungles of eastern Nicaragua.

They were set free Tuesday night in the hamlet of Presillitas, 140 miles east of Managua, half an hour after a deadline set by the government to take military action had passed.

″We won’t complain about the circumstances in which we lived while we were prisoners, nor of the inhuman treatment we received,″ said one of the freed captives, Dominick Diehl. ″But we do raise our voices against the criminal tactics, like our kidnapping, which is directed by the United States.″

He added, ″Our kidnapping would not have been possible without the support the Reagan administration gives the Contras.″

Another released captive, Astrid Stelter, said the rebels kept constantly on the move and at times shot over the heads of the Germans if they moved too slowly.

″The fear that we felt was indescribable,″ she said.

The Germans, volunteer workers building low-cost housing for the leftist Sandinista government, were captured along with some Nicaraguans by the rebels during a raid on the village of Jacinto Baca, 160 miles southeast of Managua.

They denied claims by the FDN that were carrying weapons when the Contras attacked the town.

″We never carried guns,″ one of the Germans, who was not immediately identified, told reporters.

Earlier in the day, the eight were taken to a hospital for observation. Most suffered from upset stomachs and one required immediate attention for hepatitis.

″We are checking them and giving them tests and in general their condition is good, although they are suffering from acute fatigue and digestive upsets, some of them including diarrhea,″ Dr. Juan Ignacio Gutierrez, director of Managua’s military hospital, said.

Gutierrez spoke at a news conference, to which only Nicaraguan reporters were invited. But it was transmitted by the state television network.

The doctor said that one man, identified as Siegfried Ruettig, was suffering from hepatitis and was brought in an ambulance. ″We are trying to determine his exact condition, but he generally appears to be well,″ he added.

Fifteen Nicaraguans were freed together with the Germans, but they were not immediately identified by authorities.

The other Germans - Reingard Zimmer, Juergen W. Kuhr, Dirk Diethelm Hegmanns, Angelika Goetz and Doris Altenburg - traveled in two small buses. Their ages and hometowns were not immediately available.

Asked if any of the Germans showed signs of torture or mistreatment, Gutierrez replied: ″No, we have found nothing of the kind. But, as I say, they are under observation.″

West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said in Bonn that he was grateful to everyone involved in getting the hostages released. He told reporters, ″The United States made its influence count″ in the negotiations.

The FDN is the the largest of several rebel groups known as Contras battling the Sandinista government.

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