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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ransom for Alta. journalist lowered: Somali group

Somali kidnappers holding Alberta journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan have reportedly dropped their ransom demand to $100,000 US, the head of a Somalia press freedom organization said Friday.

Dad Abdi Daud, executive director of Mogadishu-based Somali Journalists Rights Agency, said the new ransom demand, which is a drop from the original $2.5 million, signalled a positive development in the plight of Lindhout, 27, and Brennan, 35, who were kidnapped at gunpoint outside the Somali capital of Mogadishu last August.

"Now they want $100,000," said Daud, in a telephone interview Friday with Canwest News Service. "You can see the difference."

A Foreign Affairs spokesman in Ottawa said that he is not going to comment on this new development.

"We continue to pursue all appropriate channels to seek further information about Ms. Lindhout's welfare, and to assist the family in securing her safe release as well as that of Mr. Brennan," said Daniel Barbarie in an e-mail.

"We will not comment or release any information which may compromise these efforts and jeopardize the safety of a Canadian or other citizen."

Daud said the two Westerners were being treated relatively well, but were suffering "body itching" as a result of their captivity.

He said the father of a Somali journalist who was kidnapped along with Lindhout and Brennan, but released last week, planned to make contact with the kidnappers to pass on medicine for the two Westerners.

Daud believes the kidnapping may have been orchestrated with the help of employees at the Mogadishu hotel where Lindhout and Brennan were staying.

The two were kidnapped Aug. 23, along with their Somali fixer and driver, while on their way from Mogadishu to visit refugee camps in Afgoye, about 25 kilometres west of the war-torn Somali capital.

In September, a tribal chief involved in negotiations said the kidnappers wanted $2.5 million US in ransom.

The release of Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi last week was a dramatic development in a kidnapping case that had slowly receded into the background as the conflict in Somalia worsened. Lindhout's case was also overshadowed in Canada by the release of CBC reporter Melissa Fung, who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan.

Ambroise Pierre, with the Africa Desk at Reporters Without Borders, said Thursday that Canadian and Australian authorities had taken the lead in negotiations for Lindhout and Brennan's release.

Pierre said Elmi was released after his "tribal group" threatened to attack the kidnappers.

"The story with the foreign journalists is different and the negotiations for their release is something different," said Pierre.

"Their situation is very worrying. They have been held for more than 180 days."

Lindhout's family in Sylvan Lake, Alta., could not be reached Friday for comment.