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'Prospects good' for kidnap couple release

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 March 2010

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed tells Channel 4 News prospects are good for the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler, kidnapped by pirates last October, but warns against paying a ransom.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

Sheikh Sharif sheikh Ahmed, president of Somalia's transitional federal government, told Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman he was sorry that the Chandlers were being held captive. It was indicative, he said, of the problems Somalia faced.

He continued: "I assure you that over 99 per cent of the Somali public, both inside the country and outside the country, oppose these heinous activities."

"We have done a great deal in this area," he said, "and we have very good prospects for their release. But we don't believe it is something that should be discussed in the media."

He confirmed that the Somali authorities were speaking to the local clans and were trying to "negotiate a way out of their predicament instead of just relying on force".

But he cautioned against the payment of any ransom to the hostage takers "because that increases the problem".

Asked earlier in the interview for an estimate of how many foreign fighters there are in Somalia at the moment, he said, "It is hard to give exact numbers. We understand that there are between 800 and 1200 foreign fighters in Somalia."

But Sheikh Ahmed could not say how many of those were British fighters – although he knew that some of them were indeed from the UK.

He went on to thank the United Kingdom "for hosting many hundreds of thousands of Somalis, giving them an opportunity to have a good life".

He said he was convinced the overwhelming majority of Somalis living in the UK were grateful and were "good citizens of their new country. But I cannot rule out that a small group of these people may be dangerous and can cause harm."

Pressed by Jonathan Rugman, the Somali president confirmed that the British government was right to ban the al-Shabaab militant Islamic organisation last week.

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