Winston Peters condemns Red Cross 'screw up' over abducted Kiwi Louisa Akavi

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has doubled down on the Government's stance that the Red Cross going public with Louisa Akavi's abduction was the wrong move and a screw up. 

Peters, the Foreign Minister, said the stance of successive New Zealand governments has always been that the 2013 abduction of Akavi by the Islamic State (IS) should not be made public.

"The Red Cross's action is not one we agreed with and I don't want to be in a dispute with them, but frankly the truth needs to be put out there so that we can get on to the return of our original purpose which is to save this woman if she's alive," he told Magic Talk. 

Peters also demanded an explanation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), telling Sky New Australia: "We certainly will have them tell us why they screwed up this information because a screw up it is."

The Government has kept Akavi's capture by IS a secret the entire time with cooperation from Newshub and other media organisations. But the Red Cross and The New York Times went public with Akavi's story, publishing her name.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been tight-lipped about Akavi since the article in The New York Times was published and the ICRC issued a plea for information regarding the woman's whereabouts.

Ardern said on Monday: "Decisions have been taken that were not our own and I won't be commenting further on decisions made by others," and said it would be "preferable" for the case not be in the public domain.

Louisa Akavi.
Louisa Akavi. Photo credit: Red Cross

ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said he was "surprised" by Ardern's objection to going public with the story, saying he was "confident the decision was made in full transparency and coordination" with the Government.

"Every decision, including this one, was to maximize the chances of winning Louisa's freedom. We would not have made that decision without the support of the New Zealand Government," he said.

But Peters said otherwise, telling Magic Talk the Government "talked to the Red Cross about the need for this to be done in a way that does not damage our chances of rescuing her or puts her in a more dangerous situation due to publicity".

He added: "As for going public, we made it very clear to the Red Cross we did not think this was helpful. When I say that, we're not going to change our target or objective... but it's unfortunate that we need to put the record straight - and I am."

He said it was an issue that the former government and current one have "never disagreed" on, in that the "critical element of not secrecy so much, but non publication, as being of enormous help to our opportunity and her opportunity to be retracted from the situation".

"We knew that this was coming for some time, and we have done our best in conversation with them and with members of the New Zealand media who acted in a highly commendable way in this matter," Peters told Magic Talk.

There is reason to believe Akavi is still alive, as she was last seen in Baghuz, the last IS stronghold in Syria. The nurse was spotted in January treating and caring for the injured which could have included members of IS.

The Government immediately established a watch group tasked with finding and saving Akavi after she was abducted in 2013 and sent a small special operations force to Iraq and Syria to gather information and try to save her.