Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Somali leader 'hopeful' of pirate couple release

The Somali government said the Chandlers could be free in two weeks

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has said efforts are being made to free a Kent couple held by pirates at the "earliest possible date".

Paul and Rachel Chandler, 60 and 56, were kidnapped four months ago while sailing in the Indian Ocean.

Speaking through a translator, the president said his government was trying to find a "peaceful resolution".

He confirmed that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had urged him, during talks, to "redouble" release efforts.

'Not in danger'

President 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.

"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.

"We understand there is no danger. They are not in danger."

Paul and Rachel Chandler
The couple were seized while sailing from the Seychelles

Mr Ahmed told a news conference that Mr Brown had given his full backing to the Somali government.

Mr Ahmed's administration controls only a small part of the capital, Mogadishu. The rest of the country is ruled by warlords and Islamist militants, who are engaged in a brutal power struggle with the government.

He accused one of the main Islamist groups, al-Shabab, of being in league with the pirates.

"There are units of al-Shabab that participate in pirate activities - a percentage of money is allocated in all ransoms that are paid," he said.

"They also cover each other when it comes to security and other services in the areas where they have forces."

Mr Ahmed added: "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."

On Monday, a doctor who treated the couple claimed they had been temporarily reunited.

The Chandlers have been held at different locations since January, the longest they have been apart during their 29-year marriage.

'Couple together'

The Foreign Office refused to comment on the reunion, but a BBC source in Mogadishu confirmed the reports.

Rachel Chandler and Mohamed Helmi Hangul
Mrs Chandler has been held in a separate location from her husband

Dr Mohamed Helmi Hangul, who was filmed with the Chandlers last month, told the Associated Press agency he had urged the pirates to reunite the couple, who had been held in separate locations, because they had become anxious about their separation.

He said the pirates had told him the couple were now together.

In an interview in February, Mrs Chandler told a Somali reporter she was "very tormented and very, very lonely and worried".

Mr Chandler described the separation as "torture".

The Chandlers were captured while sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania in October last year.

They are among more than 130 sailors being held captive in Somalia.

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