Family Take Over Negotiations

Aid organisation with strong ties in Somalia has been asked to halt negotiations for the release of Durban yachters Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz.

Gift of the Givers taken off kidnap couple’s case

By Rizwana Sheik Umar

The Gift of the Givers is no longer involved in negotiations with Somali pirates for the release of Durban couple, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz.

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the aid organisation, who also has strong ties in Somalia, said on Monday that he was asked by Pelizzari’s family to halt negotiations.

“Vera (Hecht) told me that she wanted to handle the negotiations herself. They have asked us to stop all negotiations. We are no longer involved,” Sooliman said.

Hecht, Pelizzari’s sister, confirmed that the Gift of the Givers was no longer party to the negotiations and said she would re-engage negotiations with the pirates.

The yachties, on board the SY Choizil skippered by Peter Eldridge, were kidnapped by pirates 16 months ago as they were about to enter the Madagascar/Mozambique Channel.

The ransom, from an initial $5 million (R34m), now stands at $1.5m (R11.2m).

“There wasn’t any confirmation of proof of life. Because of this we have decide to re-engage ourselves in negotiations. I brought the ransom down once before and I am confident that we’ll be able to handle it again. The responsibility lies with the family and we have decided that negotiations should be left for the family to undertake,” Hecht said.

In October last year, the Pietermaritzburg-based aid organisation, which is supplying millions of rand in humanitarian aid to Somalia, reached out a helping hand to the family by assisting them with negotiations and trying to make contact with the couple.

This joint effort was going seemingly well until last week, when Sooliman was informed by the family that his efforts were no longer required.

When asked whether Hecht was concerned that her decision might prove detrimental to her brother and Calitz, she said: “I don’t think this will backfire. In fact, it will prompt them (the pirates) to call me directly.” Hecht said the last time she heard from the pirates was last month.

“I prefer the direct communication. Since the public awareness generated, we have managed to get the funds that would enable us to engage in proper negotiations,” she said.

To raise the money, Hecht started the “Save Bruno and Debbie” SMS R10 donation campaign for members of the public to contribute.

This past weekend, Hecht held a meeting with the Somali community in Bellville, Cape Town, after they contacted her, via her website, last month.

At the meeting, an undisclosed sum of money was handed to Hecht to help free the couple.

The group, including Hecht, filmed a message appealing to the international community for help in securing the release of the couple.

Alas Jama, spokesman for the Somali donors, told the Daily News’s sister newspaper, the Weekend Argus, that they were happy to contribute to the cause.

Mohamed Hadith Adam, also a Somali national, said that they saw themselves as Somali South Africans who cared about their fellow South Africans and strongly condemned the actions of the pirates.

Source: Daily News

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