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Alberta journalist held hostage in Somalia is in failing health: report

EDMONTON - A freelance Canadian journalist held hostage in Somalia says she may die in captivity and is begging the federal government to bring her home, according to a news report.

EDMONTON - A freelance Canadian journalist held hostage in Somalia says she may die in captivity and is begging the federal government to bring her home, according to a news report.

"The situation here is very dire and very serious. I've been a hostage for nine months. The conditions are very bad. I don't drink clean water. I am fed at most once a day," Amanda Lindhout reportedly told the Agence France-Presse news agency in a phone interview Sunday.

"I have been sick for months. Unless my government, the people of Canada, all my family and friends can get $1 million, I will die here, OK. That is certain."

Lindhout and Nigel Brennan - a photographer from Australia - were among several people abducted by roadside kidnappers outside the capital city of Mogadishu Aug. 23, 2009.

Lindhout was 27 when abducted and Brennan was 37.

The other members of the group - all locals - have been released.

It's believed Lindhout, who is from Sylvan Lake, Alta., and Brennan are being moved from house to house by their captors and that negotiations for their release have broken down numerous times.

A media spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs could not be reached immediately for comment. The department has repeatedly declined to say anything about the case, saying it doesn't want to jeopardize attempts to secure Lindhout's release.

Lindhout, in the five-minute interview with a Mogadishu-based AFP journalist, said she is suffering.

"I'm being kept ... in a dark, windowless room, completely alone," she said.

"I love my country and I want to return, so I beg my government to come to my aid.

"Likewise, I ask all my fellow Canadian citizens and my family to contribute in any way possible in order to help me finally be released from Somalia and be able to return home."

The AFP said the statement seemed to be part of a prepared script.

When pressed by the reporter for details on her ill health, Lindhout replied: "I cannot answer any question that you have. What I just said, that's all I can say."

In the interview, Brennan urged the Australian government to free him. He said he has been shackled for four months and his body is breaking down due to a high fever.

Ambroise Pierre, head of the Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders, said the group is trying to independently verify the report, but that's hard to do in the war-torn country.

"The security situation in Mogadishu is pretty volatile," Pierre said in an interview from Paris.

Kidnappings of foreigners by mercenaries are not unusual in Somalia, which has been ravaged by civil war since the central government of president Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.

Recently, Islamist rebels have fought pitched battles with government troops in the streets of Mogadishu in a bid to overthrow the internationally recognized transitional government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Gun battles, mortar attacks and suicide bombings have forced an estimated 57,000 people to flee the capital.

Pierre said mercenary kidnappings are generally resolved soon after an abduction and don't drag out for months.

He said the phone interview may be an attempt by the captors to strike a deal because they're having trouble staying hidden in the strife-ridden city.

"In such a context it's not very easy to stay in a house and hold two foreign hostages. This is difficult to assess, but the violence taking place in Mogadishu right now doesn't make things easy."

Pierre said it's been difficult to get good information and Lindhout's plea for a million-dollar ransom clouds the issue further.

Shortly after the journalists were grabbed, the captors demanded US$2.5 million for their release. That figure was reportedly dropped to $100,000 in January.

"The amount of the ransom is still not clear," said Pierre.

In Canada, Lindhout's colleagues and friends are trying to keep her case in the public spotlight through YouTube videos, Facebook pages and a website dedicated to the kidnapping (www.amandalindhout.com).

Lindhout came to Somalia on a freelance project after reporting on the Iraqi conflict for an Iranian-based English TV news network. She had also worked in Afghanistan and filed overseas dispatches for Alberta's Red Deer Advocate newspaper.

She arrived in Somalia on Aug. 20 to document the famine and violence for a French TV station.

Three days after arriving, she, Brennan and the rest of her group left their Mogadishu hotel to visit a refugee camp about 30 kilometres to the south. They were stopped on the road and abducted.

Two weeks later, their kidnappers demanded the initial $2.5 million, saying they would kill the hostages if their demands were not met within two weeks.

A week after that, Lindhout was seen on Arab TV's Al Jazeera network on a silent film clip wearing a red Islamic robe and surrounded by gunmen.

Al Jazeera said the kidnappers accused Canada and Australia of helping destroy Somalia and said Lindhout was urging the Canadian government to work to free her.

 
 
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