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Somalia kidnap: Chandlers' plea to Cameron

By Jonathan Rugman

Updated on 26 May 2010

ITN exclusive: Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates, have used their first full television interview in captivity to congratulate David Cameron on his election victory and to seek the backing of Britain's new government in securing their freedom.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates last October

Paul Chandler, a 60-year-old retired civil engineer, said: "I'd like to say congratulations to David Cameron first. And as new prime minister, we desperately need him to make a definitive public statement of the government's attitude to us.

"If the government is not prepared to help, then they must say so, because the gangsters' expectations and hopes have been raised at the thought of a new government and there might be a different approach."

The retired couple from Tunbridge Wells were enjoying the yachting holiday of a lifetime last October when they were kidnapped by pirates in the Indian Ocean just off the Seychelles, hundreds of miles from Somalia.

They have been held for more than seven months and reveal on Channel 4 News tonight that almost half their time in captivity has been spent away from each other in solitary confinement.

More on the Chandler's kidnap from Channel 4 News:
- Blog: interviewing the Chandlers
- Pirate kidnap couple: how events unfolded
- British kidnap couple make video plea
- 'Brutal treatment' of pirate kidnap couple

At first the pirate gang demanded a huge ransom for their release, though they have since said they are open to negotiation. It is official British government policy not to pay ransoms to kidnappers.

Last Thursday the Chandlers were allowed to talk relatively freely to a freelance Somali journalist, Jamal Osman. The couple were driven to a secret location in windswept Somali scrubland, somewhere between the towns of Adado and Haradhere and miles from any human settlement. The Chandlers were escorted by around 10 pirates travelling in two 4x4 cars, all the men heavily armed and refusing to be filmed.

Yet in the interview, which lasted over an hour, the hostages openly defy their captors standing all around them.

"This is not piracy and must not be reported as such," Mr Chandler said. "It is kidnapping and extortion and even torture."

"We are just animals to them," explained his wife Rachel, a 56 year old economist. "We have been kept caged up like animals. They don't care about our feelings and our family and our lives and what they've taken. They don't care whose lives they ruin. They just want the money.

"They don't understand that we are just ordinary people. They think we come from a rich country and that if they point a gun at us and threaten us that we will find a way of raising money."

After being held for months against their will in one of the most lawless countries on earth, the couple seem remarkably resilient and in reasonable health.

Paul Chandler revealed that 97 of their more than 200 days in captivity had been spent apart, something they have found particularly difficult after 30 years of marriage: "We don't have children so we're very close to each other. We've never been apart for more than a few days. We've been married almost 30 years, so to be separated is real torture."

"They never tell us what's happening next," added Rachel. "Especially when we were isolated, when we were on our own, simply not knowing what was happening and whether we would be together again - when, where each other was, was real torture, mental torture."

Rachel was last filmed in January, when she had clearly lost weight and was in distress. Since then, news reports have suggested she was raped or shot, but this appears to have been a mix of pirate propaganda and media hype.

When they were filmed last week, the couple said they have enough medicine  and food, with the pirates serving up local dishes including goat's liver, a Somali delicacy. Although they constantly live in fear of being separated again.

Map: the Chandlers journey
Last October, the Chandlers were kidnapped by pirates in the Indian Ocean just off the Seychelles, hundreds of miles from Somalia. Freelance Somali journalist, Jamal Osman, met the couple at a secret location somewhere between the towns of Adado and Haradhere and miles from any human settlement.

"The second time we were separated we refused to be separated initially, and that was a bit silly," said Paul. "We were physically separated, we were whipped and Rachel was hit with a rifle butt and has a broken tooth.

"It's a long time ago, the wounds have healed. And that was the only occasion, only one occasion, when we had any real aggression."

'A laughing stock'
Rachel says that it is still the capture and looting of their yacht, the Lynn Rival, which they had sold their house to buy, which upsets her most. "I can't think about it without bringing tears to my eyes....having to abandon her was the very worst experience, and when I realised that nothing would ever be the same again."

What pains the Chandlers even more is that a Royal Navy refuelling ship, the Wave Knight, was just a hundred metres or so away when the pirates were aboard the yacht.  Though instead of storming the boat and risking casualties, the British sailors kept away.

"The fact that we're alive and talking to you suggests that they were right to do what they did," Paul acknowledged.

"But it really makes them - the whole, that fleet of warships - a laughing stock and that is what they are, a laughing stock for these people. They can't do anything."

Jamal Osman, who interviewed the Chandlers, describes the experience:
While I knew at the back of my mind that these gunmen could kill me, I had to approach them, not as criminals, but as people with important and interesting information.

Since the gangs are not politically motivated, their interest in the Chandlers is the hope that at some point they will get millions in ransom money. This particular gangs seemed experience in kidnapping and one of them told me that it was his third such case.

Credit to the Chandlers, I was very impressed with them and the way they are coping with this horrific ordeal. In particular, Rachel seemed resilient. The gangs were even complaining about her determination not to be terrorized.

One of them said: "If you tell Rachel to do something, she will ask why. Sometimes she becomes aggressive toward our boys. She wants to control us."

Read more from Jamal Osman

Though the pirates holding the Chandlers may not give up without a fight, the hostages find the courage to condemn their kidnappers outright on camera.

"They show no compassion as you and I would understand it", Rachel said. "They are only interested in us as a vehicle for raising money, and their only interest is in keeping us alive in order to do so."

"We are old enough to be the grandparents of most of the people in the gang," said Paul. "But, you know, we can't communicate with them, we can't say to them 'how would you like it if your grandparents were taken away to another country, separated, kept in solitary confinement?'"

The Chandlers' daily challenge is filling time. Never knowing when or where they will be moved next, as the pirates evade any attempt to rescue them. The couple say they have a small supply of books and play cards endlessly, even brushing their teeth for up to ten minutes on end, just to survive the tedium of hostage life.

"The only thing that is difficult is the lack of privacy," Rachel said. "But I am now so used to them that I just go and find a bush to wash and use the toilet. And if they see me, that's their problem. I have to make do and, you know, one does."

The broadcast interview ends with an appeal to the couple's families to keep their spirits up back home. "We are being strong for them because they keep us going," says Rachel.

"We know they are doing their best. It has been seven months and we know they must have been suffering alongside us, and we care about them very much."

"There's one thing that is important and that is freedom" concludes Paul. "We don't have it. Nothing else matters really. We don't miss any thing. We miss everything. We miss the ability to walk out of the door and determine our own lives, wrongfully taken from us."

Foreign Office statement:
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: "Paul and Rachel Chandler are innocent tourists. They were sailing their yacht when taken hostage by a criminal gang seven months ago. The UK government's policy of not making or facilitating substantive concessions to hostage-takers, including the payment of ransoms, is long-standing and clear. This has been the policy of successive governments and has not changed.

"Our thoughts are with their families on the release of this video, and our consular officials are in close touch with them. We again urge those holding Paul and Rachel to release them safely, immediately and unconditionally."

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