British couple held by Somali pirates 'could be freed in days'

Chandler

Emaciated: Rachel Chandler in the tent where she is being held in Somalia, apart from her husband

The British couple held for more than four months by Somali pirates were offered their first glimmer of hope tonight.

A member of the Somali government claimed negotiations for Paul and Rachel Chandler's release were progressing rapidly and promised they would be freed 'within ten days'.

The gang have demanded a £1.3million ransom for the yachting adventurers, and warned they would be shot this month if the money was not paid.

But according to Professor Mohamed Omar Dalha, deputy speaker of the parliament in the East African state, the pirates are on the brink of backing down and releasing the Chandlers, whose health has deteriorated alarmingly, on compassionate grounds.

'We have sent a representative to Haradheere [the district of Somalia where the Chandlers are being held] and for the past week talks with the pirates have been going on day and night,' he said.

'We are appealing to them through their traditional and religious leaders, as well as their own brothers and sisters  -  people they know and trust  -  and at last they are listening.

'We are optimistic that the Chandlers will be released within a week or ten days at most, without condition. I am absolutely confident that by the end of next week they will be on their way home to Britain.'

Retired quantity surveyor Mr Chandler, 60, and his wife, a 56-year-old economist, were captured on October 23, when pirates boarded their 38ft yacht Lynn Rival as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania.

Chandler

Kidnapped: Rachel and Paul Chandler who are being held by Somali pirates

Since then the plight of the Chandlers, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has grown ever more desperate.

In a series of video messages and brief, anguished mobile phone calls, the emaciated couple have told of being beaten, starved and kept apart in makeshift tents.

During their most recent appeal for help, broadcast last weekend, Mr Chandler  -  who needs urgent medical treatment for a bacterial eye infection  -  spoke of his misery at being separated from his wife on their 29th wedding anniversary.

Mrs Chandler has also described how one of her guards would have raped her if other gang members had not intervened. 

With each new bit of information, the suffering of their relatives waiting in Britain has been heightened.

And as the Foreign Office mantra is always the same  -  that it won't negotiate with the pirates  -  the stand-off had appeared intractable.

Chandler

The couple before their ordeal began on October 23, 2009

Even if the pirates did not carry out their threat, it seemed only a matter of time before the couple succumbed to disease or starvation.

Speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail today, however, Professor Dalha gave the Chandlers and their family cause for optimism.

It must be tempered because the Transitional Federal Government, which he represents, is not in a position to call the shots in the remote areas where the pirates operate.

But until now it had appeared that no formal negotiations were taking place.

 

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