Freedom follows tense negotiations and desperate pleas

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The Independent Online

The first reports that Paul and Rachel Chandler were finally going to be freed from their captivity in Somalia came about a week ago.

Since the couple's abduction last year, attempts to obtain their release had ranged from possible military operations to the payment of ransoms. Until now, all had come to nothing, to the despair of the two captives and those campaigning on their behalf.

A rescue operation was ruled out after the pirates moved the hostages to their coastal bases. After that, the Foreign Office worked through the Somali government and the administration of the semi-autonomous Puntland region while adhering to the stated official government position of not paying ransom or negotiating directly with kidnappers.

Neither the weak Somali Transitional Federal Government nor Puntland officials had any real influence with the pirate gangs, and tribal elders approached for help promised much but delivered little. In media appearances arranged by the kidnap gang, the Chandlers pleaded for help, saying their captors were demanding a ransom of around £4.3m. With negotiations seemingly going nowhere, their relatives decided a ransom would have to be paid.

The British Government, while sticking to its policy on negotiations and ransom, is believed to have helped facilitate contacts between the Chandlers' campaign group and specialist negotiators who flew to Nairobi to organise contact with the pirates. There is speculation in Mogadishu that the British Government funded the deal. On 10 March, Britain announced a new aid programme of £5.8m "to help promote peace and stability" in Somalia, according to a press release from the Department for International Development.

This followed a 15-minute meeting at Downing Street two days earlier between the Somali leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

A Somali official in the President's entourage claimed part of the British money was always intended to fund Paul and Rachel Chandler's freedom. The British Government has repeated its denial that it in any way funded the deal.

The amount demanded was gradually reduced, to about £500,000, and a number of people came forward with offers of donation including, it is said, members of the Somali community based in Britain. The Somali government was also supposedly a contributor.

Around three months ago a deal was very close to being done with a large sum of cash, said to be around £400,000, delivered to people acting on behalf of the pirates.

But the deal fell through after some or all of the money had been handed over, with the kidnap gang claiming they had not received the due amount. According to sources a new agreement was hammered out under which another sum was paid. This time, say sources, the money went through, paving the way for the Chandlers to be freed.