Somaliland condemns two to death for slain aid workers

HARGEISA, April 19 (Reuters) - The Supreme Court in the self-declared republic of Somaliland has sentenced two men to be executed by firing squad for the murder of four foreign aid workers between 2003-2004, court officials said on Thursday.

Despite relative stability in the breakaway enclave of north-west Somalia compared with the rest of the anarchic nation, the killings of the foreigners raised fears Somaliland might be becoming a base for terrorism.

Italian aid worker Annalena Tonelli was shot dead in 2003, British teachers Richard and Enid Eyeington were killed in October 2003, and Kenyan aid worker Flora Chepkemoi was gunned down at a roadblock outside the capital Hargeisa in March 2004.

Jama Abdi Ismail and Mohammed Ali Esse, both from Somaliland, were part of a group of eight men first sentenced to die in November 2005 by a lower court. But the Supreme Court, sitting in the Red Sea port town of Berbera, this week reduced the sentences of the rest of them to life imprisonment.

"This will be the final verdict and there will be no appeal," said Supreme Court chairman Mohammed Esse Omane.

He did not give reasons for the sentence reductions.

Amid tight security in Berbera, Omane also sentenced 18 others to sentences ranging from 12 to 20 years for attempting to disrupt parliamentary elections in September 2005.

If the sentences are carried out, Ismail and Esse will be shot in public. The last public executions in Somaliland were about two years ago.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but the world has so far withheld recognition.