Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Government working to free kidnapped fishermen

BY SHIH HSIU-CHUAN  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) yesterday said that the government has made contact with the Somali rebel militia who hijacked three Taiwanese fishing boats and have been negotiating for the release of the crews.

"We have learned that the crewmembers from Taiwan and their boats are all safe. We are still waiting for further information on paying the ransom," Lu said.

"Our priority is that they ensure the safety of the crew," he said.

Stories in yesterday's Chinese-language evening newspapers said that the rebels had threatened to kill one of the captives a day until they receive the ransom.

The rebels have demanded US$500,000 for each boat.

DEATH THREATS

Lu, however, said yesterday that the death threats had been made by the rebels on Aug. 16, shortly after they had hijacked the boats.

He said the threats were just part of the ransom negotiations. To ensure the captives' safety, Lu refused discuss the negotiations.

He also did not comment on news reports that the fishermen would be freed within two days.

"We are still negotiating with the militia over the amount, payment details and other conditions," the spokesman said.

The three ships, Chung Yi 218, from Kaoshiung County, and the Cheng Ching Feng and Hsin Lien Fa 36 from Pingtung County were seized in separate incidents.

Negotiations for the crew's release have been hampered by Taiwan's lack of diplomatic relations with Somalia.

INTERNATIONAL EFFORT

Lu said that the ministry, the Mainland Affairs Council, and the Fisheries Agency, as well as other civic and international organizations were working together on the rescue effort.

The family of Hsu Lien-fa (許連發), the captain of the Hsin Lien Fa, told reporters that they feared for his safety everyday.

His wife said that their parents are very old and she was afraid they could not take the strain.

"I can't even take care of our three children. I have had to entrust them to one of my relatives," she said.

Chen Chiu-chu (陳秋菊), the wife of Cheng Ching Feng captain Huang Shuen-te (黃順德), said that she was too scared to answer the telephone because she was afraid of hearing bad news about her husband.

"I have worked hard to collect the ransom. I hope the government can rescue my husband as soon as possible," she said.

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