German and Somali hostages released

A German national and his Somali wife who were kidnapped over the weekend in the northern Somali breakaway state of Puntland were released on Monday, officials said.

“The German and his wife were released and are back in (the port city of) Bossaso now. Local elders and officials in the regional administration helped his release,” Puntland presidential adviser Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade told AFP. General Ali Said, who led mediation efforts, said the two were released “without preconditions.”

The pair’s vehicle had been intercepted as they were driving in Bossaso on Saturday evening and taken into mountainous areas in eastern Bossaso. Officials said the German national, whose name could not immediately be confirmed, had been staying in Bossaso for several weeks. They were taken when the German was visiting his wife’s relatives.

Armed gangs in Puntland elsewhere in Somalia have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, often targeting foreigners or Somalis working with international organisations to demand ransoms. Kidnappers have been holding three journalists—a Canadian, an Australian and a Somali—since August 23 and are reportedly demanding 2.5 million dollars for their release.

Southern Somalia has been torn by 17 years of almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre. Numerous UN-backed initiatives have failed to restore stability in the country.

Thousands of civilians have died in the guerrilla war that has pitted invading Ethiopian troops against Islamist insurgents since last year. The self-declared state of Puntland has been largely spared the latest violence but it has been used by pirates taking foreign ships hostage and gangs smuggling goods, arms and people across the Gulf of Aden.