Wed, Sep 07, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Somali pirates to let captives go free, report says

KIDNAPPING A newspaper report said that Somali gunmen were to release hostages being held on three Taiwanese fishing boats yesterday or today

STAFF WRITER , WITH DPA AND CNA, TAIPEI

Somali pirates, under pressure from the Somali government and clan elders, have agreed to release the 47 Taiwanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino and Vietnamese crew on three Taiwanese fishing boats immediately, a newspaper said yesterday.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍), however, declined to confirm the report when reached by the Taipei Times yesterday.

"MOFA officials have been involved in the negotiations since Aug. 24 and the situation is getting better," Lu said.

"We have sent out a clear message that we are asking them to release the Taiwanese fishermen unconditionally. In addition, we won't pay a cent of ransom for the release," he said.

Lu said yesterday that the Taiwanese fishermen and their boats were safe at present.

Later yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) said that officials have been sent to Kenya to communicate with the rebels.

"It is hoped that after two or three days, we'll have news that the public will like to hear," Chen said.

A Chinese-language newspaper yesterday quoted Huang Shun-chang (黃順章), based in Malaysia, as saying that "the Malaysian agent for the trawlers said that the pirates, following talks with Somali government officials, on Monday agreed to unconditionally free the hostages."

Huang said the hostages should have been released on Monday, but the release was delayed due to some misunderstanding, so it should happen yesterday or today, the paper said.

Somali government troops reportedly have surrounded the Taiwanese trawlers guarded by two dozen pirates, and threatened to use force to rescue the hostages.

"Somalia is a Muslim country. Under Islamic law, the punishment for committing crime is the death penalty or cutting off a finger.

"So, under persuasion from clan elders, some pirates have surrendered to government troops," it said.

The three Taiwanese tuna trawlers were seized by Somali pirates at the port of Kismayo on Aug. 16 as they were picking up a fishing licence.

The trawlers carried three Taiwanese officers and 44 crew -- 14 Indonesians, 14 Chinese, 12 Filipinos and four Vietnamese.

Somali rebels demanded US$500,000 for the release of each boat and its crew. If the ransom was not paid, they said, they would start killing one hostage each day.

additional reporting by Chiu Yu-tzu

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