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French hostage escapes in Somalia, officials say

ONE of a pair of French security agents kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month has escaped, Somali officials said today. A military officer said the man is believed to have killed three of his captors.

The agent is safe in the presidential palace and "in a good mood," said the assistant information secretary of the presidential palace, Abdulkadir Hussein Wehliye.

Farhan Asanyo, a government military officer, said the man unexpectedly came up to government soldiers early Wednesday, identified himself and said he had escaped.

"The man told them that he was one of the French officials held by militants," Asanyo said. "He said he escaped after killing three of his captors, and we sent him to the presidential palace."

The fate of the other captive were not immediately clear.

The French men were abducted in July from a hotel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. They were in the country to train Somali government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen.

Militants had said the two would be tried under Islamic law for alleged spying and conspiracy against Islam.

Foreigners rarely travel to Somalia, which is among the most dangerous countries in the world. The country has not had a functioning government for 18 years since clan warlords overthrew a brutal socialist dictator then unleashed their militias on each other.

Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast, making the waterway one of the most dangerous in the world.

Many fear the power vacuum in Somalia will provide a haven for terrorists, as the military and police force are weak and in disarray. Various Islamist groups have been fighting the UN-backed government since being chased from power 2 1/2 years ago. The situation is complicated by the continual splintering and reforming of alliances and a web of clan loyalties.

Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, sees near daily battles between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.


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