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Paul and Rachel Chandler Speaking at a Press Conference in Mogadishu

By Sue Richards last modified Nov 14, 2010 04:58 PM

Published: 2010-11-14 16:58:03
Topics: Piracy
Countries: United Kingdom

As reported by the guardian.co.uk

Speaking at a press conference at the presidential palace in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu, before flying to Kenya, a thin-looking but smiling Rachel Chandler told reporters: "We're happy to be alive, happy to be here, desperate to see our family and friends, and so happy to be amongst decent, everyday people, Somalis, people from anywhere in the world who are not criminals, because we've been a year with criminals and that's not a very nice thing to be doing."

The couple walked across the airport asphalt at Mogadishu, smiling and thanking people.

Paul Chandler had a large camera around his neck and was taking photos. He told the BBC: "We're fine, we're rather skinny and bony but we're fine." He said they were told they were to be released two days ago.

"We were told on Friday in a way which gave us some confidence to believe it. Otherwise we'd been told we'd be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for the past nine months. So we'd taken all these suggestions with a pinch of salt."

Asked if he had felt their lives had been in danger during captivity, he said: "That's something we'll talk about later, but we were not really directly endangered by the gang, after the initial seizure." He said "ideally" he would like to get back to sea soon.

The couple were met in Mogadishu by the Somalian prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, under heavy guard by African Union troops. Although the Somalian government has no influence in the area where the Chandlers were held, some reports suggested it sent a high-ranking official to negotiate with the kidnappers.

The ransom, some of it raised by the Somali community in the UK and thought to have been in the region of £600,000, may also have passed through the Somali government.

In a statement to the Chandlers, Mohamed said: "The Somali government and Somali people are pleased that they got their freedom. The transitional federal government … exerted every humanly possible effort to bring you back to your loved ones and notwithstanding what you went through."

The Chandlers' family refused to comment on how their freedom was negotiated, saying only that common sense had "finally prevailed". In a statement, they said: "The family believes it would be irresponsible to discuss any aspect of the release process as this could encourage others to capture private individuals and demand large ransom payments, something that we are sure none of us wants."

They disclosed that they had been told the "wonderful news" of the couple's impending release yesterday evening. The family said the couple were "in good spirits, although tired and exhausted by their experience", and asked for them to be given the opportunity to adjust and return to their families and friends.

They added: "Throughout the protracted discussions with the pirates it has been a difficult task for the family to get across the message that these were two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise involving tens of millions of pounds of assets."

David Cameron described the couple's release as "tremendous news", adding: "Their long captivity is over at last. We will ensure that they are reunited with their family as quickly as possible."

He added: "I unreservedly condemn the actions of those that held the Chandlers for so long. Kidnapping is never justified."

The couple's MP, Conservative Greg Clark, said there was "great joy across Tunbridge Wells" at the news. He said the pair's freedom was due in large part to the "professionalism" of Foreign Office officials and backed the UK's stance of not engaging in ransom talks. "They [the Foreign Office] maintained their cool over the year. I know they kept the family informed of the security situation."

After a final deal was sealed earlier this week, the couple were driven overnight from the town of Amara to Adado. While Adado is considered reasonably safe, a British security consultant was kidnapped there in October. Dozens of militiamen allied to the local administration were assigned to guard them until the plane left for Mogadishu.

A news blackout was later imposed on the media, prohibiting references to the couple's wellbeing or speculation surrounding their release for fear of compromising their safety and jeopardising the rescue effort. The Chandler's family thanked the media for respecting the injunction.

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