BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Canadian lawyer working for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Syria has escaped from rebel fighters who held him for eight months, the Syrian government said on Thursday.
State television showed Carl Campeau being handed over to the senior U.N. official in Damascus, Yacoub El-Hillo, by deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
"I was held prisoner for eight months," Campeau said in brief remarks to Syrian television, adding that he managed to escape this week when his captors "forgot to lock the door" of the house where he was being held.
A rebel source said at the time of Campeau's disappearance that he was being held for ransom by a rival brigade of Syrian rebels battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
"I want to congratulate him for managing to escape from these criminal gangs," Mekdad said. "The Syrian government...left no stone unturned to bring him back to the United Nations, his family and his people".
Campeau, a legal adviser to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), went missing in mid-February.
His capture was followed by the detention of 21 Filipino UNDOF observers by rebels, which forced the mission to scale back patrols along a ceasefire line between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria. They were freed three days later.
UNDOF, which has been monitoring the area since 1974, has about 1,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff from India, Nepal, Ireland, Fiji, Moldova, Morocco and the Philippines.
Peacekeepers from Austria, Croatia and Japan have pulled out because of the growing threat from Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war. The Philippines said in July it would likely keep its 342 soldiers in the ceasefire zone for six more months.
Reporting by Dominic Evans; editing by Ralph Boulton and Patrick Graham