Sooden family desperate for news

By Amanda Spratt

The family of Auckland man Harmeet Singh Sooden is preparing to fly to Jordan this week in the hope of being there if he is released.

It has been two weeks since the 32-year-old Auckland University literature student was abducted in Iraq, with colleagues Londoner Norman Kember, 74, American Tom Fox, 54, and Canadian James Loney, 41. The men were part of an aid mission with the Christian Peacemaker Team.

Their captors, a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, demanded the British and American Governments release all Iraqi prisoners by last night.

But the deadline to execute the men passed without word or apparent action, leaving Mr Sooden's parents, Zimbabwe residents Manjeet Kaur Sooden and father Dalip Singh Sooden, his sister Preety Brewer and her husband Mark Brewer waiting anxiously at their Blockhouse Bay home for news.

But the only news they received was a call from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police representative at 6am yesterday, saying there was no news.

Mr Brewer said the family did not expect to know what the kidnappers had decided until today. Iraq is 10 hours behind New Zealand time, and no precise hour was set for the deadline.

However, Mr Brewer said the family was optimistic Mr Sooden would be let go.

They have already booked tickets to Jordan for the middle of next week, but it is uncertain whether they will be able to go.

"We've been told it would take five days to get visas for Jordan," said Mr Brewer. "We thought a call to the Prime Minister of Jordan and we'd be on the next plane, but Foreign Affairs seem to think it might take a little longer."

He said the Government had been "more vocal" and helpful last week and the family had received a call from Prime Minister Helen Clark and visits from Immigration Minister David Cunliffe and Green MP Keith Locke.

Reports that another hostage, Ronald Schulz, had been executed - seen as a bad sign for the Christian Peacemaker Team - have not been confirmed.

The pressure from groups such as the Palestine Liberation Front and al Qaeda to release the hostages had buoyed hopes, said Mr Brewer. However, reports in foreign papers that mediators were talking to the kidnappers were probably inaccurate.

Mr Brewer said he did not know what his brother-in-law would be thinking and feeling right now.

"I couldn't imagine what anyone would be like after two weeks in captivity. He's very strong. He's probably holding up all right."

However, his family is finding the tension of waiting difficult to take.

"The first few days you can kind of handle it, there's the adrenalin and everything," Mr Brewer said. "It's once you settle down and wait, the strain starts.

"I don't know if you've ever sat down in a dark room and listened to a grandfather clock ticking, but that's something of what we're going through at the moment."

He was not sure how the family would find out what the kidnappers had chosen to do with Mr Sooden and his fellow hostages, but expected to be told by the Prime Minister's office.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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