A Somali pirate group holding a British couple kidnapped from their yacht one year ago says Paul and Rachel Chandler will not be released until a full ransom is paid.
In an interview with a local radio station in Somalia, a spokesman for the pirate group, identified only as "Qodar," insisted the Chandlers would never be allowed to go free unless the group's ransom demand is met.
Qodar says Paul and Rachel Chandler were well-treated for the first six months of their captivity, but their living conditions have deteriorated since. He says a ransom should be paid immediately to prevent the elderly couple from dying of neglect in Somalia.
The pirate group's statement appeared to be in response to a pledge made last week by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government to seek new negotiation channels, including contacts with clan and community leaders, for the Chandler's release. The government condemned the pirate hostage-takers, saying their actions have brought "terrible shame" to the nation.
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping, which made headlines around the world. The retired couple, on a pleasure cruise, had just left the Seychelles islands in their yacht and was sailing toward Tanzania, when they were captured by a Somali pirate group on the prowl in the Indian Ocean.
Fearing a possible rescue attempt, the pirates kept the Chandlers on shore and in separate locations for months. But recent reports say the couple is now being held together because the pirates are no longer willing to pay the cost of keeping them apart.
It is believed the Chandlers are currently being held in or near the town of Adado, close to the Ethiopian border, in central Somalia. It is also the area, where a security consultant for British charity Save the Children was kidnapped on Oct. 15th.
Media reports say the consultant, Frans Barnard, went to Adado to try to contact the pirate group holding the Chandlers and negotiate their release. Barnard had recently expressed fear that the couple could become pawns in a conflict between their pirate captors and al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants trying to expand their control in the area.
The consultant was released five days later. Save the Children credited local clan elders for securing Barnard's release, and denied reports that a ransom of $100,000 had been paid to the kidnappers.
In June, a ransom of nearly $500,000, collected by friends and family of the Chandlers, was delivered to the pirates. But the exchange failed when, after the money was dropped-off, the pirates increased the ransom demand to $1 million for the couple.
The British government continues to oppose the payment of ransom and has not been involved in the case.