EL FASHER, Sudan, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- A U.N. peacekeeper spent three months chained to a tree in Sudan before finally being freed by his captors in January, the United Nations revealed Thursday.
Istvan Papp, 55, was working with the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfar, where he oversaw the disarmament program, when kidnappers appeared at his house Oct. 7. He was about to call his family in Hungary when armed men broke into the house in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in Sudan.
A U.N. release said Papp was no stranger to danger, having served 31 years with the Hungarian armed forces and with peacekeeping missions in Iraq, Iran, the Sinai, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal.
Tied up, Papp was taken toward the border with Chad, and his unknown kidnappers began demanding a $1 million ransom via a satellite call.
However, U.N. policy is not to pay ransoms.
After some initial degree of personal freedom, "they decided to chain me during the night, and after two or three days they decided throughout the day also, so 24 hours a day," Papp said.
The U.N. release said the chain became a regular part of the peacekeeper's daily existence, along with a herd of camels and various trees. "We moved from one place to the other every two or three days," Papp said. "Whenever we moved, first they went to look for a tree for me. When they found an appropriate tree, providing shade for the day, they put one end of the chain to the tree, the other end to either my left or right leg."
Papp said he always had a choice of which leg would be chained. The chain was about 10 feet in length.
"They said at the beginning that if nobody is going to pay for you, we will release you after 30 days," Papp said. "Thirty days came, then they said 60 days. After 60 days I didn't care about whatever they said. But my release was sudden. I didn't really expect anything to happen and then …"
In early January, three months after he was kidnapped, Papp's captors told him he would be taken to a hilltop not far from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where he would be handed over to representatives of the Sudanese government.
After driving for hours, he was shepherded into a helicopter bound for El Fasher -- and asked what size pants he wore, the U.N. release said.
When Papp arrived in El Fasher he saw other U.N. officials and a "doctor or two ... and then I realized that I'm OK -- I'm safe."