Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 13:58 UK

Pirates 'seize family off Yemen'

Map of Somalia

Pirates have kidnapped a Western family from a yacht off Yemen and taken them to the breakaway republic of Somaliland, officials there have said.

A Somaliland elder told the BBC that the family was German and that he had visited them.

Somaliland's Vice-President, Ahmed Yusuf Yasin, said earlier that an operation to find the family had begun.

Pirate attacks against fishing boats, cargo ships and yachts off Somalia's coast have surged over recent months.

Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 after the overthrow of military leader Siad Barre.

The breakaway republic has been relatively peaceful in comparison to Somalia, which has experienced almost constant civil conflict since then.

Somalia's coastal waters are close to shipping routes connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and the country's interim government lacks the resources to police its own coastline.

Restraint urged

Mr Yusuf Yasin said at least three members of the family - a father, mother and child - were taken to a mountainous area of Somaliland by their kidnappers.

The Somaliland elder who said he had visited the family also said he was negotiating with the pirates who had captured them.

He urged restraint from authorities in Somaliland and neighbouring Somali state of Puntland who have troops massed on their border, 10km (6 miles) from where the hostages are being held.

Sporadic fighting has broken out between Puntland and Somaliland over the ownership of some border areas.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council voted to allow countries to send warships into Somalia's waters to tackle the pirates.

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