Peter Ferdinand to YT: “The government should not have tourists coming here if it is not safe” [Archives:2000/24/Interview]

June 12 2000

The murder of the Norwegian diplomat was shocking. The Yemen Times tried its best to get the victim’s wife talk about the incident but, being in a bad mood, she refused to meet anybody. We could not get any photo of any member of the family. However, Walid Al-Saqqaf, chief editor and Mohammed Al-Qadhi, managing editor met with the victim’s friend Mr. Peter Ferdinand and filed the following.

Q: Could you please tell us what has exactly happened?
A: We were counseled not to go to areas that were risky when we arrived here. We first arrived in Mokka and we were accompanied by police escorts as we drove along to Taiz. We stayed in Taiz one night. There was also one armed escort accompanying us when we left for Sana’a.
In Sana’a we needed to have the cars serviced. So Gudbrand Stuve took his car to the workshop. He took it there yesterday morning to find out what was the problem with the car. They identified the problem and he was asked to get it back after 16:00.
Around 16:30 in the afternoon, however, he went there with his 9-year old boy in mini bus. They went off the bus and just before the workshop, four armed men jumped out and dragged them into their car. Now I am narrating the story as the boy did when he came back.
He said that they were driving around where he did not know. He was of course afraid. He was talking to his father and the father was trying to calm him down. And then they came to a police road block. What happened exactly there is a little bit difficult to find out. It seems that the kidnappers tried to pass without stopping. They might shot first. We don’t know exactly what happened. Then the police seemed to have shot at the car. As a result of shooting from both sides, the father was shot in his neck.
There was fire from both sides as the car continued on. It was followed by a kind of military car with a machine gun shooting at them. Eventually the car stopped because it had been hit. The kidnappers ran away. Some of them might had been hit. The boy was left alone in the car with his injured father lying on him. This seemed to happen around 8 O’clock last night.
Around this time his wife was worried about her husband and son because they were supposed to go to the workshop and come back soon. I went together with her to the workshop to find out if the car had been picked up or not. The car was still there and we were told that nobody came to take it. We were very worried as it was 8 O’ clock in the evening. We informed the Norwegian Consul but we could not get in touch with him in the beginning. So we called the Norwegian embassy in Riyadh. Then a lot of people gathered at the place.
Mr. Saeed also came very fast together with one of his friends. They were very good. They explained to us what the problem was. Of course at that time we suspected that it could be an accident in the road and that he might be in hospital. We thought that it could have been a robbery incident like those common in Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lusaka. We also thought that it could have been a kidnapping. I was a little surprised that the police was not so available here.
Many people gathered here yesterday evening so we could not find out what was happening. We went around to hospitals to look for Gudbrand and his son. We sent out messages to all police stations and road blocks round the town. We were told just to take it easy and that such incidents are common. Then they said that it was a kidnapping incident that happens frequently in Yemen. We were convinced that they would be well-treated and that they would be released in a couple of days.
This morning the boy came back. He had blood all over. We called Mr. Saeed again and asked him if he could find some explanation. He told us that he would go to one of the ministers and promised that he would come back and give a full explanation to us. We were very worried because we heard from the boy that the father was shot and that there was no reaction from the official side. But that came later. Mr. Saeed visited the Prime Minister and they explained to us that he was shot and that he was taken to the military hospital where he died.

Q: What was the reaction of his wife?
A: His wife was totally devastated. They have been together for many years and they had three children. She was extremely happy to see her boy again because he had not been there the whole night and nobody knew where he was. However, losing a dear husband is not simple.

Q: Did you contact any people?
A: We contacted the Norwegian embassy in Riyadh because the victim was a diplomat, he was the second secretary at the Embassy in Lusaka. There was a need to inform the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the ambassador. The ambassador promised to come as quick as possible and he would come today to assist us.

Q: Some reports say that the chasing car belonged to tribesmen. What do you think?
A: The boy said that early in the morning when he came and he repeated it several times. But of course he is still 9 years old and it could be difficult for him to identify one car from the other. But he was very clear that it was a military car that was following them because it was equipped with a machine gun.
He said that he went out of the Peugeot trying to help his father. The kidnappers left the car. He was trying to get some help and there was still some shooting away. He rushed back into the car to hide himself.
Although he is nine years old but he has been very precise.

Q: Do you believe that having the child here will help reveal the truth?
A: Of course it was the kidnappers’ mistake and probably they were the ones who started the shoot in the beginning. In my country you would criticize the police if they shooting a car. But we also know that here the situation is different. We have the Consul, Mr. Saeed and the officials who are requested to give a full report and explanation on what happened.

Q: Did anybody from the Yemeni government visit you?
A: We are having visitors now, The Minister of Tourism and two representatives of the minister are coming here to condole with the victim’s wife on the loss of her husband. I Think that there has been a very good response from the official side. It was very clear that they were very sorry about it.
Personally, I was a little bit worried yesterday that there was not a police investigation. Yesterday evening we were wondering how the victim with his son came to the workshop. I mean did they take a taxi or a mini bus. We thought that they took a taxi, and that the taxi driver was the one who had taken them away. But that kind of investigation was not done.
I think that the officials here realized from the very beginning that it was a kidnapping incident. They tried to calm us down and tell us that it is not happening in Sana’a and that Sana’a is a peaceful place and we believed that.

Q: Do you believe that his wife will demand for investigation?
A: I do not know what she will demand but I expect that the Norwegian government and the Embassy will demand at least a report and investigation on the matter. This is what we call a manslaughter, so it can not be just ignored. You have to secure that weapons are used in the right way and that the police are using their authorities in the right way. As far as we are concerned we have demanded the autopsy of the body to know the kind of the bullet and how and whatever.

Q: What is your demand from the Yemeni Government, the demand of the whole team?
A: I am not in a position to demand anything. I am just here on a short visit. But I think that the Yemeni Government should be opened in regard with issues like this one. They should give the truth. They should not have tourists coming here if it is not safe. they should give people a right picture of the situation and not try to hide it. However, I think it is very important to stress that we have been treated well. We have people coming to show good feelings. I want to thank everybody who has positively taken part in the case on behalf of the family and ourselves.

Q: Will you come back to Yemen If you have the opportunity?
A: I will love to come back. I think that Yemen has got great tourist potentials. I will be the first one to come back after this issue has been over. But of course we would rather escape now.

Q: Could you please tell us about the journey. When did it start?
A: We started form Lusaka on May 2. We drove around Tanzania for around two weeks. We visited a number of friends there. Then we met the other couples in Nairobi on May 17. We stayed there at the guest house. Then we left Kenya for Ethiopia. As were in the middle of the war, we decided to speed up a little bit and shortened our visit to Ethiopia. From Ethiopia we went to Djibouti and we stayed there a couple of days before sailing Mokka. We stayed there for one night then we went to Taiz. In Taiz we stayed for a night and after that we traveled to Sana’a. We had been here for three days before this happened.
Mrs. Ase Bitustql (41), the victim’s wife and her children: Inger Bitustaql (14), Tara Stuve (5) and Gunnar Stuve (9), who was with his father, are leaving today for Norway. But for me, my wife, Anette, and my Norwegian friends: Eldbjorg Eie and John Eie will continue our journey through Saudi Arabia and Syria. An armed escort will accompany us to the Saudi borders.