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Britons seized while trying to flee Somalia


Four Britons are being held by the authorities in Kenya after being arrested apparently fleeing from war-torn Somalia, the Foreign Office has said.

Police officials in Kenya said they were among several foreigners detained on the country's border with the east African state.

Somalia is in the grip of a violent power struggle between Islamic extremists and government forces, who are backed by Ethiopian troops.

Last month, there were reports that Britons had been fighting alongside the Islamic forces with some killed, injured or captured in the fighting.

Somalia's deputy prime minister also claimed that some financial support for the Islamic militant movement in his country was coming from the UK.

A Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman said consular staff in Kenya were trying to gain access to the Britons in custody.

She said: "I can confirm that Kenya is holding a number of British nationals and we have urgently requested consular access to them."

The spokesman would not reveal their identities but said it was the FCO's belief that they had been arrested on the Somalian border.

"That is what we understand," she said.

"There have been reports for some time that there were British nationals being held either in Somalia, Kenya, or Ethiopia and we have been pressing those governments for details."

A Kenyan police official said 10 foreigners - including a number of Britons - had been caught escaping from Somalia and would be deported.

The foreigners also included two Americans, a Frenchman, a Tunisian woman, Syrians and other Arabic fighters.

Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia - a largely Muslim country - in December to prevent an Islamic movement from ousting the weak, internationally recognised government from its lone stronghold in the west of the country.

Leaders of the Islamic movement have vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war in Somalia, and al-Qa'eda chief Osama bin Laden's deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on the Ethiopian troops.

The US has meanwhile carried out its own air strikes in the country which it said was to target al-Qa'eda-linked militants.

Somalia: Government Calls for Assistance to Rehabilitate Child Soldiers

Nairobi - About 70,000 children have been conscripted into Somalia's fighting factions, exposing them to attacks and separating them from their families, a Somali government official said on Friday in Nairobi.

"These children have been recruited over time and now about 70,000 are involved in this conflict, on all sides," said Qamar Aden, the chairwoman of Somalia's parliamentary committee on human rights. This figure was provided by the United Nations Joint Needs Assessment team for Somalia, she said.

However, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, in a 2004 report, estimated that 200,000 children had been recruited into the different factions of Somalia's conflict over a 14-year period.

Aden said the government had released all child soldiers captured in the fighting with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). However, those released do not undergo any form of rehabilitation due to a lack of capacity in the Transitional Federal Government.

"Currently we have no policy on the released children. We just give them amnesty and let them go. They are basically back on the street, since we don't have the means to help them," added Aden.

"Now we are asking the international community to help us rehabilitate these children," Aden said.

Aden was speaking in Nairobi as part of a Somali government delegation, which includes the Minister for Women's Development and Family Affairs Amina Mursal, and Ebyan Salah, the gender adviser to the Prime Minister, who are en route to France to attend the 'Free children from war' conference.

The conference, convened by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will be held on 5-6 February 2007 and will examine the protection and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups.

Aden said: "The Somali government is attending this conference to show their commitment to fighting for children's rights and to ask for assistance in issues relating to demobilisation, reintegration and child protection."

"We will ask the international community to help us rehabilitate these children and provide them with an alternative to the gun culture," said Mursal.

The Paris conference will provide an opportunity to obtain international political commitment for the protection, release and reintegration of children recruited or used by armed forces and armed groups.

However, Somalia has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a result of the ongoing conflicts that pose a great challenge to the governance of the country, Aden said.

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