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Kidnapped Britons say Somali pirates may kill them

Last Updated: Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 12:03

London: A retired British couple snatched from their yacht by Somali pirates said in an interview broadcast on Friday they fear they could be killed within a week or handed to a terrorist group if a ransom demand is not paid.
Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped last month by pirates who seized their 38-foot yacht — the Lynn Rival — as they sailed toward Tanzania.

In an interview with Britain`s Channel 4 news program, the Chandlers are seen surrounded by armed men, some of whom have their guns pointed directly at the couple.

"I have no doubt that they will not hesitate to kill us in a week or so from now," Paul Chandler, 59, said in the interview, filmed by a Channel 4 crew on Wednesday.

Britain`s ITN — which produces Channel 4 News — said the Chandlers and their relatives had agreed that the footage, the first of the couple since their capture, could be aired.

Pirates have demanded USD 7 million to release the Chandlers, but Britain`s government insists it won`t pay ransom to kidnappers.

"We are under threat and we are told that we will not be fed and given water, so we are very concerned about the future," Rachel Chandler, 55, said in the video. "We ask the government, and the people of Britain and our family, to do whatever they can to enter into negotiations with these people to buy back our lives."

She said that the couple had been told by their captors that a terrorist cell is searching for them.

An Islamic militia commander and a local elder in the central Somali village of Bahdo said previously that rival pirates and militia groups had fought for control of the British couple.

The couple are thought to be being held north of Haradhere, a notorious pirate stronghold.

Britain`s Foreign Office said on Friday in a statement that it was aware of the video, but said government policy on ransom payments was clear.

"We do not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, including the payment of ransoms. These are innocent tourists, we seek the immediate release of Paul and Rachel," the Foreign Office said. "The family have seen the video of Paul and Rachel, they miss them dearly and urge their release."

The Chandlers, married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago, sailing across the world. In an entry on a Web site in June they wrote that they were headed for Tanzania, after initially delaying a voyage there "because of the Somali pirate problem."

Their yacht issued a distress signal on October 23. A naval patrol later found the vessel abandoned.

In the video footage, Paul Chandler insisted the couple were in reasonable health and unharmed. "Mentally we are under great stress and threatened," he said. "Our kidnappers are losing patience. They are concerned that there has been no response at all to their demands for money."

The hostage, who had previously been permitted to conduct a telephone interview with a Britain`s ITV News, urged the government to intervene before "we just sleepwalk to a tragic ending."

Yemen`s coast guard said Friday that Somali pirates had hijacked a Panamanian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. A coast guard official said the Red Sea Spirit was carrying an unknown number of crew when it was hijacked Friday morning, 36 nautical miles from the Yemeni port of Balhaf.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 12:03

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