Somali rebel group vows to free pirate captives

Mon May 10, 2010 11:18am GMT

By Abdiaziz Hassan

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Somali insurgent group that seized a pirate stronghold has vowed to drive pirates from the area and free hostages including a British couple held for more than six months, the group's spokesman said on Monday.

Hizbul Islam rebels seized the town of Haradheere last week and pledged to take more towns along Somalia's coast, a move that may push the pirates north into the semi-autonomous Puntland region.

"We will do everything in our capacity to eliminate them (the pirates) from this province," Sheikh Mohamed Osman Arus told Reuters from Haradheere.

"We do not have a coast guard to fight pirates at sea, but we want to deny those gangs shelter on land."

The western-backed administration of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, which controls just a few blocks of the capital, insists that the best solution to piracy is to extend its authority across the country to fight pirates on land.

But the government is confronted by Islamist rebel groups, including Hizbul Islam and al Shabaab, whose insurgency has killed more than 21,000 civilians since the start of 2007.

Pirates said Hizbul Islam took over Haradheere, at the beginning of May, after the gangs refused to share ransom payments, a claim rejected by the Islamists.

Arus said Hizbul Islam would free hostages without a ransom if they could locate then.   Continued...

<p>Pirates leave the merchant vessel MV Faina (not shown) for the Somali shore, while under observation by a U.S. Navy ship, in this picture taken on October 8, 2008 and released October 9. REUTERS/Jason R. Zalasky</p>
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