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Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 13:21 UK

Frenchman 'flees Somali captors'

Al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu (file photo)
Much of southern Somalia is controlled by al-Shabab and its militia allies

A French security adviser seized by Islamist militants in Somalia has escaped his captors, officials say.

The Frenchman, who was kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu along with a colleague last month, reportedly killed three militants as he fled.

French foreign ministry officials confirmed that he had escaped but denied there had been any violence.

They also said the second hostage was still being held. An earlier report that said he was free was retracted.

The pair were part of a team who are in the country to train forces for the UN-backed interim government - who are battling Islamist rebels for control of the country.

Ransom denial

A spokesman for the interim government, Abdulkadir Hussein Wehliye, said the escaped Frenchman was in the presidential palace and "in a good mood".

A government military official, Farhan Asanyo, said the man had approached government soldiers early on Wednesday, identified himself and said he had escaped.

"The man told them that he was one of the French officials held by militants," Mr Asanyo said.

map showing areas under Islamist control

"He said he escaped after killing three of his captors, and we sent him to the presidential palace."

However, witnesses suggested that the rebels had allowed the Frenchman to go free, prompting speculation that a ransom might have been paid.

France's foreign ministry denied reports of any money changing hands or of violence taking place.

"The hostage held by Hizbul-Islam was able to escape his kidnappers," spokesman Eric Chevallier told reporters.

"Despite certain allegations and rumours, this happened without violence and France did not pay a ransom."

Hours after the first hostage was released, French news agency AFP reported that Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gele had said the second hostage was also free.

But AFP later retracted the report, after Mr Gele confirmed only one hostage was free.

Mr Chevallier reiterated that the second hostage was still being held.

Foreign reinforcements

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan, in Mogadishu, says the two French captives were being held by different factions.

While fighters from the Hizbul-Islam group were holding the man whose release has been confirmed, their allies from al-Shabab were thought to be holding the other man.

The two groups control much of southern Somalia, but analysts say al-Shabab is known for being the more radical of the two groups.

Al-Shabab fighters care little for their public image and they have carried out killings on camera.

Both groups are said to have links to al-Qaeda and have been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was sworn in as president in January after UN-brokered peace talks.

He promised to introduce Sharia law but the hardliners accuse him of being a Western stooge.



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