France seeking prompt release of Somalia captives

21st July 2009, Comments 0 comments

France is seeking the rapid release of two French agents kidnapped in Somalia, in spite of "terribly contradictory noises".

Warsaw – France is seeking the rapid release of two French agents kidnapped in Somalia, in spite of "terribly contradictory noises," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday.

"There are terribly contradictory noises and in this situation we are doing all we can to get these two men out of the mess," said Kouchner in Warsaw after talks with Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski.

Kouchner refused to confirm or deny reports on contact between Paris and the hard-line Shebab militia, which is believed to have kidnapped the two men from a Mogadishu hotel room on 13 July.

"Allow me to remain discreet... Contacts are as necessary as they are multiple. All kinds of reports are going around, to which you shouldn't pay much attention," he said.

Speaking in Mogadishu on Sunday, a senior Somali security official told AFP that discussions with the Shebab militia over the pair's fate had been broken off, while in Paris a senior official said the group was "ready to talk".

The Shebab and the more political Hizb al-Islam armed group have launched a powerful offensive against the internationally-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, which controls very little Somali territory.

The kidnapped pair are French defence officials on a mission to support Somalia's beleaguered transition government, although they claimed to be journalists when they checked into their hotel.

"These two envoys kidnapped in Mogadishu were representing France's commitment to train a certain number of Somali soldiers," Kouchner said.

"This training had begun. I'd like other countries to commit themselves with us in order to complete the training."

But the situation in Somalia remains unclear.

"It looks that hopes of negotiations to release the French hostages are fading by the day," the Somali security official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"All contacts with the captors are called off so far and the government does not know the whereabouts of the pair."

Mohamed Adan, a Somali police officer in Mogadishu, confirmed a break-off in contacts with the kidnappers.

"We have no more information on the hostages and we believe they are no longer in the capital," said Adan, adding that efforts to reach the captors were ending "because of the decision made by the hardline captors to bring the hostages before an Islamic court."

On Saturday, a senior member of the Shebab militia told AFP that the French pair would be charged with spying and tried under Islamic law in a Sharia court.

In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant told Europe 1 radio: "The group is ready to talk. Messages have been exchanged but negotiations have not properly speaking begun."

Gueant added, however, that the French authorities were "submerged under a profusion of contradictory reports" and that he had no reason to believe that talk of a trial was genuine.

AFP / Expatica

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