Saturday, July 25, 2009

Family of Australian journalist kidnapped with Canadian speaks out

The mother of an Australian photographer kidnapped in Somalia with a Canadian reporter is pressuring the Australian government to speed up efforts to secure the release of her son.

Nigel Brennan and Amanda Lindhout, a freelance journalist from Alberta, were kidnapped outside the Somali capital of Mogadishu last August. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom that has fluctuated between US$2.5 million and $100,000.

Australian media are reporting that Brennan's mother, Heather, confronted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this week over how long it is taking to negotiate her son's release. She managed to force a 20-minute meeting with Rudd.

"We probably agreed to disagree on a few items," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"My questions will be answered when our son arrives home."

Rudd said the government had taken all "reasonable and feasible" steps to bring Brennan home.

"It's tough. It's difficult. It's complex. It's sensitive," he said. "But as with all of our consular cases abroad, we take this one seriously."

No one from Lindhout's family in Canada could immediately be reached for comment. They have repeatedly declined to speak publicly over the last year.

Emma Welford, a spokeswoman with Foreign Affairs in Canada, also declined to talk about the Brennan family's remarks.

"Canadian authorities continue to pursue all appropriate channels to seek further information about Ms. Lindhout's welfare, and to assist the family in securing her safe release as well as that of Mr. Brennan," Welford said.

"We will not comment or release any information which may compromise these efforts and jeopardize the safety of a Canadian or other citizen."

Welford refused to be specific about what the government is doing.

Lindhout went to war-torn Somalia last August to document the famine and violence for a French TV station. She had previously worked for an Iranian-based English TV network in Iraq and had spent some time covering the conflict in Afghanistan.

Three days after arriving in Somalia, she, Brennan and some local helpers left their Mogadishu hotel to visit a refugee camp about 30 kilometres to the south. They were stopped on the road and abducted.

A week after they were captured, the captors released a video of Lindhout and Brennan surrounded by gunmen.

Last month, the captors allowed Lindhout to call CTV and tearfully plead for the ransom to be paid.

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