Somali leader 'hopeful' couple kidnapped by pirates will be released

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The Independent Online

Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said today that progress was being made and he was "hopeful" about the release of a British couple seized by pirates.

heikh Ahmed expressed regret about the capture of Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and said efforts were being made to secure their release at the "earliest possible date".

Speaking through a translator at a round-table discussion in London, he confirmed that the Somali government was working to find a "peaceful resolution" to the plight of the couple.

The Chandlers were seized in October last year by Somali pirates while sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania.

Answering questions about the Chandlers, Sheikh Ahmed said: "Our efforts are geared towards winning their release at the earliest possible date but discussing this in the media is not going to help the case."

He confirmed that Gordon Brown had asked him to "redouble" efforts to secure the release of the couple.

"Obviously, when someone is in captivity that is not a good situation at all. The Prime Minister asked that we redouble our efforts in winning their release. We have been doing that and will continue," he said.

Asked about the health of the couple, Sheikh Ahmed said: "We understand there is no danger.. They are not in danger."

Sheikh Ahmed, who became president of Somalia's transitional federal government in January last year, said: "First of all, I am sorry about the fact that the Chandlers are being held captive, as I am about the other ships that are captured on the coast of Somalia.

"These young men (the pirates) are not thinking about what is right .. piracy is part of a larger problem that we face in Somalia and the government is actively working on finding a peaceful resolution to this issue."

His comments come after Somali deputy parliamentary speaker Mohamed Omar Dalha said on Friday he was hopeful the Chandlers would be freed within two weeks.

It was revealed yesterday that a doctor who treated the couple said they have been temporarily reunited after weeks apart.

Mr Chandler, 59, and his wife, 55, were captured when armed men boarded their yacht as they slept.

The couple are the highest profile of more than 130 sailors held captive on the Somali coast.

The multimillion-pound ransoms demanded are one of the few ways to make money in the impoverished country.

Attacks doubled between 2008 and 2009 and are becoming increasingly violent.