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French Hostage Freed in Somalia

One of two French military advisors kidnapped last month in the Somali capital Mogadishu is free and in the hands of the Somali government. But there are conflicting reports about how he gained his freedom.

In initial reports, senior Somali military and police officials said a foreigner approached government soldiers near the Villa Somalia presidential palace in Mogadishu early Wednesday, identifying himself as one of the French men abducted by gunmen at the Sahafi Hotel last month.

The reports said the man was taken to the Villa Somalia, where he told government officials that he had escaped after killing three of his captors.

But in an interview with VOA's Somali Service, the former hostage, Marc Aubrière, said he made his escape without violence when his captors were asleep.

"I did not hurt anybody. They make a mistake with my door. And after, I ran away through Mogadishu to a safe place," he said.

Obriere said that he was in good health and was treated fairly during his captivity.

Sources in Mogadishu tell VOA that there are reports that some members of a hard-line Islamist insurgent group called Hisbul Islam arranged for the release of Aubrière in exchange for a ransom. A Hisbul Islam spokesman, Mohamed Osman Aruus, denied that anyone in his group had received a ransom. Separately, a French foreign ministry official told reporters in Paris the agent had escaped on his own, without incident, and that no ransom had been paid.

The fate of the second French hostage, who was being held by al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked militant group allied with Hisbul Islam, is not immediately clear. But residents in Mogadishu say al-Shabab fighters have been searching vehicles Wednesday at various checkpoints set up in areas under their control. That has led to speculation that the second hostage may also have escaped or has been set free without authorization.

Armed gunmen kidnapped the two French nationals on July 14. The French government said they were in Mogadishu working as security advisors to Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government. There have been conflicting reports about what happened to the men after the kidnapping, but it is widely believed that the men were handed over to Islamist militants fighting to topple the Somali government.

One group of militants, Hisbul Islam, is said to have held both hostages briefly before handing Aubrière's colleague to al-Shabab. Unconfirmed reports said the hostages were held in two different locations to discourage a rescue attempt.

In recent years, Somalia has seen a surge in ship hijackings that has netted pirates millions of dollars in ransom. On land, gunmen have carried out scores of kidnappings-for-ransom, targeting mostly journalists and aid workers. At least eight foreigners remain in captivity.