Canadian, Australian journalists held in Somalia arrive in Kenya

NAIROBI Thu Nov 26, 2009 8:54am EST

Freed hostages, Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian freelance reporter, and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist smile to photographers in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, November 26, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Freed hostages, Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian freelance reporter, and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist smile to photographers in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, November 26, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Two freelance journalists held hostage in Somalia for 15 months arrived safely in neighboring Kenya on Thursday.

Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian reporter, and Nigel Brennan, an Australian photojournalist, were freed in Mogadishu on Wednesday after being kidnapped by gunmen in August 2008 as they visited a camp for displaced families near the capital.

The pair said they were tortured during their captivity and feared being sold to hard-line al Shabaab rebels.

They made no comment on their arrival in Nairobi, where they were whisked away in cars with diplomatic plates.

One of their jailers, who gave his name as Siyad, told Reuters that the ransom negotiations had taken more than a year because the kidnappers did not trust people who came to them claiming to represent the Canadian and Australian governments.

"We were convinced by assurances from (Somali) government officials, especially four members of parliament who were involved in the talks," Siyad said by telephone, adding that the gunmen had received a $1 million ransom for the pair.

The kidnappers had initially demanded $1 million for each captive, Lindhout told Canada's CTV television on Wednesday.

The Horn of Africa nation has lacked an effective central government for 18 years. It has become one of the world's most dangerous place for foreign aid workers and journalists, who risk being kidnapped and held until a ransom is paid.

A local Somali journalist, Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, who was working for the two freelancers as their interpreter, was also kidnapped. He was released in January 2009.

The Western-backed administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is battling al Shabaab and other rebel groups, and controls little more than a few blocks of the coastal capital.

Kidnapping is a lucrative business for the myriad armed groups in the lawless country -- and for the pirate gangs that have plagued busy shipping lanes offshore for several years and are holding more than 200 hostages.

While foreign captives in Somalia are normally released after a large ransom has been paid, local aid workers and journalists have been killed this year. Some 19,000 civilians have been killed since an insurgency started in 2007.

(Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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