17 June 2005

Unison.ie / Irish Independent

Dad flies to be with children after siege nightmare

THE father of two Irish children dramatically rescued from a school siege in Cambodia last night thanked those who risked their lives to save his son and daughter.

Aid worker David McMahon was on his way from Georgia to Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia to be with his wife and children.

The four-year-old boy and three-year-old girl were held hostage with 29 other nursery children by masked gunmen who threatened to shoot them one by one.

One three-year-old Canadian boy was killed by the rebels during the six-hour siege and three of the hostage-takers were also shot dead after police stormed the building where the children and their teacher were being held at gunpoint.

Irish-born Daragh McMahon (4) and Monica (3) were among those held hostage at Siem Reap International School while their mother, Cambodian-born Bunly, kept a terrified vigil outside the school.

When contacted in Georgia last night, Mr McMahon said his children had been holidaying in their mother's native country where he had worked previously for eight years with Concern and the HALO Trust, a British charity specialising in land mine clearance and bomb disposal.

The family had been preparing to join their father in Georgia where he had recently moved to work for the HALO Trust.

Mr McMahon, who is from Co Clare, praised the efforts of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish Embassy in Beijing and the British Embassy in Phnom Penh who were very supportive to the family.

"Both children were released unharmed and are safely with their mother. I am currently on my way to Cambodia to be with my family," he said.

"The family would like to thank those who risked their lives to end the crisis and offer their deepest sympathy to the family of the deceased child," he added.

The children's grandmother, Mary McMahon, from Newmarket-on-Fergus, spoke last night of her terror when she got the 6am call from her son to say Daragh and Monica had been "kidnapped".

"Naturally I was shocked. It was terrible. I was speaking with David and Bunly during the day. I was on to her when the news came through that they were being released. It was such a relief but our hearts go out to the Canadian family. While we are celebrating, they are grieving," she said last night.

"The children are young and well travelled so hopefully they will get over this."

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it had been in contact with the Irish relatives while its embassy in Beijing had been in contact with the father.

"Whatever assistance is required from us will be made available to the family. The main thing now is that the children have been confirmed safe," he said.

Concern's assistant country director for Cambodia, Mark Munoz, took his children out of the school just two weeks ago when he moved to a new position with the Irish aid agency in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Pehn.

Speaking from Phnom Pehn last night, he said his wife Patricia had been in constant phone contact with the parents of their children's classmates throughout the siege. Their children, Gus (5) and Dorothy (2) would have been in the classroom which was seized.

Martha Kearns

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