In a major setback to efforts to free Indian hostages in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA) has now backed the local staff's demand of 12.4 million Ethiopian Birr (ETB) from the company for their release. Seven of the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services' (IL&FS) employees have been held hostage by the local staff in Ethiopia who haven't been paid for months by the cash-strapped company.
Adding to the woes of the company, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had imposed a restriction on the funds' transfer from the IL&FS's account to any foreign nation. But after a request from the Ministry of External Affairs, the apex bank allowed IL&FS to settle the payments of the local Ethiopian workers.
Speaking to the Hindu Business Line, one of the stranded employees, Chaitanya Hari said that "The Indian embassy here is only assuring us that we will stay alive and that the Ethiopian Ministry has given its word that we won't be killed. They are concerned only about our safety at the camp. They have no power to free us from this hostage situation."
The employee further added the recent development is surprising as earlier the ERA was against the demand for additional payment there is no provision of paying extra months' salaries for the termination of the project. The ERA decided to back the demand of the locals after authority met to discuss the issue last week.
The meeting witnessed the participation from the members of the Indian embassy, ERA representatives, an IL&FS employee of the company sent to resolve the issue, the local contractors and the labour union leaders. The stranded employee Hari said that the locals reacted violently after the meeting got over on Friday.
"After Friday's failed meeting, the locals have become more violent. They have stopped our water and food supply,'' he said.
Earlier this month, Ethiopian employees of the joint venture between IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd and Elsamex S.A, ITNL-Elsamex JV Bure were assured by IL&FS that their due salary will be cleared. But the locals started demanding additional money in the wake of the terminated project.