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Growing Concern Over Journalists Kidnapped in Somalia

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders is expressing serious concerns about the plight of two kidnapped Western journalists, who have been held hostage for nearly 10 months in Somalia's volatile capital Mogadishu. The media rights group said there are signs that the kidnappers are losing patience as negotiations to free them have stalled.

The head of the Africa desk for Reporters Without Borders, Ambroise Pierre, told VOA that for months, his group has respected the wishes of the Canadian and Australian governments to allow the negotiations for the release of the hostages to proceed without outside interference.

But Pierre said he is now extremely concerned about the mental and physical health of 27-year-old Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and 35-year-old Australian photographer Nigel Brennan.

Armed militiamen abducted the pair last August, along with their Somali assistant, on a road about 25 kilometers west of the capital.

"What I got from the ground was that for three or four months now, the kidnappers have decided to change how they were keeping these two hostages and Amanda and Nigel are [being] held in difficult conditions," he noted. "In this particular case, the Canadian and Australian authorities asked everybody not to make too much noise about it in order to make the negotiations easy. But up to now, no common ground was found with the negotiators. Nobody was expecting that," he said.

On Wednesday, Canadian Television reported that it had received a tearful voice message from a woman identifying herself as Amanda Lindhout. The woman said that she was ill and being held captive in a windowless room in chains. She described her situation as "desperate," saying that there was no clean water to drink and not enough food.

The caller begged the Canadian government and fellow citizens to assist her family in paying the ransom for her release. She did not say whether Nigel Brennan is being kept in a similar condition.

The kidnappers released Lindhout and Brennan's Somali assistant in January. They have also reportedly lowered their ransom demand for the two journalists from $2.5 million to $1 million.

For the past several months, Mogadishu has been convulsed by renewed fighting, the latest pitting militant Islamists against forces loyal to Somalia's new moderate Islamist-led government. Pierre said the deteriorating security situation in the capital is likely putting pressure on the kidnappers to end the hostage situation as quickly as possible.

"I think the kidnappers in such a volatile situation would like to get rid of the hostages - that they would like to get paid. I do not want to think that the kidnappers may want to kill the hostages because I do not think it is in their interest," said Pierre from Reporters Without Borders. "The kidnapping was not politically-motivated. It is for money. The thing is that they are tense and angry because they were not expecting this thing to last so long."

The Canadian and Australian governments have not commented on the case.