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PM may let France send commandos to free captives



Latest update : 2009-07-20

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke has said his government may allow France to send a team of commandos to free the two French hostages taken in Mogadishu last week.

REUTERS - Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said on Sunday the government had not ruled out any option to free two French hostages, including letting Paris send commandos into the Horn of Africa nation.

Several such abductions have rocked the interim government which is battling to wrest control of the country from powerful Islamist insurgents.

The two French security men were seized last week in Mogadishu then three foreign aid workers were also captured over the weekend in a cross-border raid on a Kenyan town.

Asked whether the government would allow a French raid, Sharmarke told Reuters: "Every option is on the table, and nothing will be ruled out ...

We have not so far received any kind of ransom demand, and whatever it takes us we are working on to release the men."

"We are using indirect channels to avoid casualties and spoiling the talks. Nonetheless, we are following closely the day-to-day developments of this matter. We are trying our best to secure the freedom of these men without any loss of lives."

French officials were not immediately available for comment.

Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous places and has a history of kidnappings of foreigners who are normally released after substantial ransom payments. Suspicion usually falls on clan militias or Islamist rebels.

Sharmarke said he was "optimistic" about the release of the two who were taken from a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday then passed around by armed groups until Hizbul Islam rebels gave the two to al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab.

A police official and residents said the two -- who were in Somalia to train government security forces -- were snatched by a faction within the government then given to insurgents.

But the son of an assassinated ex-president denied that: "It has nothing to do with security forces. No responsible security forces have the overconfidence of cooperating with criminals."

"The people who had kidnapped the French security men were criminals from Hizbul Islam and Shabaab, and they had played a major role on the scale of the kidnappings across the country."

New tactic

Sharmarke blamed foreign countries for being behind the kidnappings of the French men and the three aid workers from the Kenyan border town of Mandera on Saturday.

"Definitely there were foreign masterminds of the attack. And I think it is a new way of creating instability in the entire region. The abduction that took place in Mandera is identical to this one in Mogadishu," he said.

Sharmarke did not specify which foreigners were involved.

The three workers -- whose group wants its name and their nationalities withheld -- were being held in the provincial town of Baidoa in south-central Somalia after assailants raided their camp on the Kenya-Somali border, he said.    

Sharmarke called on regional countries to help Somalia tackle the spate of kidnappings. "These groups have realised they cannot topple the government. They have changed tactics by abducting people to disrupt any progress."

"I call for the region to act quickly before the situation escalates to a tragedy that none of us may have the control over it ... These groups want to reverse the clock back a hundred years," he said.

Date created : 2009-07-19