NEW DELHI / THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Indian nurses holed up in a hospital basement in conflict-ridden Tikrit were under the custody of Iraqi militants and are being taken to another location as on Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs said.
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that the nurses agreed to move out in interest of their own safety. “All of them are safe and unharmed,” he said.
Syed Akbaruddin said the nurses were advised by the Ministry to “proceed” as directed by the militants. This decision was taken in consultation with Chief Minister Oomen Chandy and other stakeholders, considering the situation in Tikrit. There were no other options before them as the area was not under Iraqi government’s control and the humanitarian groups were unable to reach to these nurses, he said.
The spokesperson said the nurses had no choice but to leave and be held captive by insurgents. “If your question is that if they have moved on their free will - my answer is that in zones of conflict, there is no free will,” said Akbaruddin. Akbaruddin said the Ambassador had spoken to the nurses around 4.20 pm. After three hours, some nurses were allowed to call their families in India and tell they were safe.
Oommen Chandy accompanied by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and Finance Minister K M Mani held an ‘extended meeting’ with Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Thursday morning to discuss the situation.
With media reports stating that the hospital was shelled in the afternoon and some nurses were injured, Chandy met Sushma Swaraj for a second time and sought immediate action by opening channels of international agencies to rescue them.
Addressing mediapersons in New Delhi, Chandy said that the Indian Embassy in Iraq is in constant touch with the MEA. A panic situation is not warranted as all the nurses are safe, he said. “We have been informed that the injury sustained by the nurses were from broken pieces of glass,” Chandy said.
Chennithala said the MEA and diplomatic channels are trying their best to ensure their safety.