Home for Christmas? Release of More Hostages Gives Hope That Associated Press Newsman Terry Anderson Could Be Released within the Next Few Weeks

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With the release from Lebanon of the fifth and sixth Western hostages since August came possibly the most encouraging news to date about the potential release of newsman Terry Anderson, who has been a captive in Lebanon for more than six years.

At a news conference in Damascus following their release Nov. 18, former hostages Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland, who had been held with Anderson, spoke of their captors' apparent desire to free the remaining hostages and of the futility of holding them any longer.

"This afternoon, when we were sitting together in our cell, chained to the wall as we have been chained to the wall for the last five years -- and in some cases, as Tom and others, for seven years -- 23 hours and 50 minutes a day, one of our captors came in and told us that Tom and myself would be freed this evening," said Anglican church envoy Waite, who was abducted Jan. 20, 1987, while on a mission to Beirut to free the hostages.

"He also said to me: 'We apologize for having captured you; we recognize now that this was the wrong thing to do, that holding hostages achieves no constructive purpose,'" Waite said, adding that his captor said "that before the end of the month, [hostage Americans] Joseph Cicippio and Alann Steen would be released, we hope within the next five days. He furthermore said that by the end of the month Terry Anderson would be set free."

United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who lately has taken an active role in negotiations, fueled hopes for more hostage releases when he told reporters that "the groups" and the Iranian and Syrian governments have offered him the release of all hostages by Christmas.

Anderson's sister, Peggy Say, left a message on her answering machine in Cadiz, Ky., that she was "thrilled" by the release of Sutherland and Waite but that she was not doing any interviews right now.

Sutherland and Waite had been with Anderson just a few hours before their news conference, and both men pledged to continue efforts for his release.

Perez de Cuellar's "job is not done because we left Terry Anderson about three or four hours ago in Lebanon, and he's no longer chained to the wall, thank God, but he's still in a room that has very little fresh air and no daylight whatsoever," said Sutherland, dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut.

"Without Terry Anderson, I couldn't have made it six-and-a-half years," added Sutherland, who was abducted June 9, 1985, a few months after Anderson, who was kidnapped March 16, 1985.

Although he at first found the intelligence of the Associated {Press' chief Middle East correspondent daunting, Sutherland said he later "came to grips with that."

"And so I would just simply say to all of the friends of Terry Anderson, he is a man of whom all of you can be proud," Sutherland added. "He's in good health right now. He's in very good spirits. He's taken to writing poetry, which he hopes to publish, and he kept dozens of poems in his head. How he does it, I don't know, but he kept all of them in his head. You will undoubtedly have a chance to read some of them sometime . . .

"But he's a man who never should have been kidnapped. He was doing his very best for the world and for Lebanon and reporting objectively about what was happening in Lebanon, and they never should have picked him up. …