Mum's anguish after kids held in Algeria

A Northland woman says she is negotiating with her Algerian husband to find a resolution to a custody battle over their three children, whom she says have been held captive in an Algerian apartment for seven months.

Mihi Puriri, in her 30s, said she left her Kaikohe home in August last year to travel to Algeria with her husband of more than 10 years, Mohamed Azzaoui, 36, and their three children, because she thought his father was gravely ill.

She told Radio New Zealand that her husband destroyed the family passports on arrival in the country, then held her and daughters Iman, 5, and Assiya, 2, and son Zakaria, almost 1, captive in an apartment in his hometown of Mostaganem.

She said she had not seen her children for 10 days after she escaped from where she was staying following a tense stand-off between a New Zealand diplomat and tens of police, soldiers and Algerian locals.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has called for a review of the case, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to help Ms Puriri.

Ms Puriri said a diplomatic party from New Zealand's embassy in Cairo, accompanied by a gendarme escort, went to the address where the Azzaoui family were staying last month.

A group of more than 50 locals, two dozen soldiers and police surrounded the house to support the Azzaoui family and physically prevented the children from leaving the house, she said.

New Zealand Consul Barbara Welton reportedly sat on the floor to negotiate, saying "I am not leaving this building without my citizens.''

After hours of tense negotiations, the consular officials left. Ms Puriri managed to leave shortly after but the children could not be extracted.

Ms Puriri said she had been working with officials to investigate all sorts of avenues, which had not been working.

"It's been close to seven months and it has been near impossible, which is why we're still here.

"Its incredibly difficult and my son is going to be turning one next week, which is just really, really upsetting... Not seeing them, and not being allowed to see [my children], is just really distressing.''

She said she was not attempting to negotiate some sort of resolution with Mr Azzaoui that both parties were happy with.

"I think we've just reached the stage now where we just both want this over with. In the best interests of the children, we need to put aside our differences and move on with our lives.''

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman yesterday said the officials had returned to Egypt but remained in regular contact with Ms Puriri and had also spoken with the family.

He said the ministry had been providing consular assistance and advice to Ms Puriri and her children in Algeria since 2011.

Azzaoui, a former New Zealand and Pan Asian Boxing Association cruiserweight champion, came to New Zealand after competing in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He met Mihi Puriri soon after and moved to Northland, where the couple settled and started a family.

Kerikeri trainer Anthony Warren worked with Azzaoui for five years during his boxing career and the pair travelled the world together. He also knew Ms Puriri well, he said.

Since she left for Algeria her family had been trying to contact her and were very distressed about the situation, said Mr Warren, who had spoken to her father several times.

"They're deeply unhappy with her being over there."

 

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