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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ransom deadline for kidnapped Canadian journalist may be good news

OTTAWA - Canadian authorities in Somalia are doing as much as they can for a young Canadian journalist kidnapped at gunpoint nearly two months ago in the war-torn African country, according to a spokesman at an international group of journalists.
"There is an open channel of communication now," said Leonard Vincent, head of the Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders. "I know there are very intense efforts made by the Canadians, so messages (from the kidnappers) can go through."
Vincent said the efforts are obviously working, after a deadline on a ransom demand was announced earlier this week by a group claiming to be holding Sylvan Lake, Alta., journalist Amanda Lindhout, Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan, and Somali photojournalist Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi.

The three were abducted at gunpoint on Aug. 23 while on a road between Afgoye and the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
In September, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $2.5 million for the foreigners' release. On Monday, the group contacted Lindhout's last employer, Press TV, an English-language Iranian television station, saying if the ransom was not paid within 15 days, Lindhout and Brennan would die.
Vincent said this new deadline should be seen as a positive step toward their release.
"These guys are a little gang. The bills are piling up. It costs a lot of money to keep Western hostages," he said from Paris. "The kidnappers are getting nervous or impatient in finding a settlement. We believe, and always have believed, that the two foreigners are their shield. It's just a way of drawing attention and spreading fear (for them)."
Although no group has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, various news organizations working on the case say this ransom demand shows the kidnappers are fuelled by finances, not political gain.
"If they were to get rid of them, they will be exposed to attacks from the other side - from Islamists, Americans, Canadians," Vincent said. "They're protected by the fact that they have hostages. It's always been about the money; the money is a way for them to protect themselves, to get some food, a car, and some weapons and get away after this is done."
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said Wednesday the agency was aware of the recent deadline made by the kidnappers, but could not provide any details in fear of jeopardizing the government's efforts.
Vincent said a country such as Somalia, which has lacked an effective government since 1991, is extremely difficult for government agencies to negotiate with in such situations.
"In these types of cases, you don't just pick up the phone; there has be middlemen, exchanges of messages through several intermediaries. The difficulty now is to maintain the communication," he said.
In September, the Arab-language, all-news satellite network, Al-Jazeera, broadcasted video footage of Lindhout and Brennan. The video showed the two appealing for governments to work together toward their release, but there was no sound.
Lindhout, 27, and Brennan, 37, had intended on visiting refugee camps in the war-torn country when they were kidnapped. She was a freelance TV and print journalist who had worked in Baghdad before going to Africa.
The Canadian government has advised against all travel in Somalia.
Islamists are engaged in guerrilla warfare and deadly clashes with Somali government forces, Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers.

Press group expects quick release of hostages

CALGARY -- Death threats with a two-week deadline against a Canadian journalist and Australian photographer kidnapped in Somalia nearly two months ago are an act of desperation that could lead to the quick release of the captives, according to an international journalists group.
Press TV, an Iranian English-language news channel, reported Monday through its Mogadishu correspondent that if a $2.5-million ransom is not paid in 15 days, freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout of Sylvan Lake, Alta., and photojournalist Nigel Brennan of Brisbane would be killed.
Leonard Vincent, who works for the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, said the hostage-takers are simply trying to get the attention of Canadian and Australian authorities.
"This shows that they are very nervous and that they are starting to get impatient," he said. "The bills are piling up. This kidnapping is starting to cost them a lot of money. So they are urging for a quick settlement and a quick agreement."

The foreign journalists, along with Somali photographer and interpreter Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, as well as the group's driver, were kidnapped Aug. 23 just outside Mogadishu.
Constantly moving the hostages to safe houses and guarding and feeding them has forced the captors to give up their day jobs for a long and costly undertaking, Mr. Vincent explained.
"They have in their hands a hot potato," he added. "It starts to be very embarrassing and very long. They didn't expect this to be so long and so complicated." Last month, Al Jazeera television network broadcast video of the kidnapped reporters. The tape showed armed men around the captives and accused Canada and Australia of "taking part in the destruction of Somalia."
Ms. Lindhout, 27, who has reported from Iraq for Press TV, and Mr. Brennan had only arrived in Somalia a few days before they vanished. They left their hotel in the capital bound for a refugee camp about 30 kilometres away. They were apparently ambushed on their way back to the city.
Eugénie Cormier-Lassonde, a spokeswoman with Foreign Affairs Canada, said Ottawa is aware of recent media reports and is working with Australian officials for the safe return of citizens of both countries.
"We cannot release any further information which may jeopardize these efforts," Ms. Cormier-Lassonde said.
"Canada remains willing to listen to and speak with persons who may have information that will assist in the safe release of the hostages," she added.
Ms. Lindhout's parents could not be reached for comment. Former MP Bob Mills, a friend of the family who had been speaking on their behalf, has since been advised not to talk to the media so as to "not compromise" the case. Friends and family have joined groups on the social-networking site Facebook urging Ottawa to pick up the pace.
Mr. Vincent advised families to be patient.
"I think this is a sign they are just ready for a settlement," he said.

Monday, October 13, 2008

15 days to save journalists in Somalia

Somali kidnappers threaten to kill Canadian journalist, Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer, Nigel Brennan if ransom is not paid.

Press TV's correspondent in Mogadishu reported on Monday that one of the kidnappers said if the $2.5 million ransom was not paid in 15 days, the journalists would be killed.

Lindhout and Brennan were kidnapped while en route to Hawa Abdi refugee camp in Afgoye -- a city located 28 km southwest of Mogadishu -- from the Somali capital, on August 23.

Lindhout, 27, a freelance television and print reporter from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, filed stories from Iraq on behalf of Press TV, Iran's 24-hour English-language news channel.

The abduction comes amid the unrest that continues unabated in Somalia. Years of fighting between rival warlords and the inability to deal with famine and disease have so far resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people.

Journalists are frequently taken hostage for ransom in the Horn of Africa country.