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Somalia pardons jailed Britons

Somalia's president has pardoned six foreigners, including three Britons, sentenced to at least 10 years in prison each for bringing millions of dollars intended for pirate ransom into the country, an official has said.

Abdirahman Omar Osman, the Somali government spokesman, said the three British nationals, an American and two Kenyans, would be free after a court processes their release.

The men were arrested in Mogadishu last month after their planes were found to be carrying millions of dollars in cash.

Two of the defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 15,000 US dollar fine, the others were sentenced to 10 years and a 10,000 dollar fine.

Pirates have been receiving millions of dollars in ransoms for several years now but this was the first time Westerners were sentenced for their role in paying out the ransoms.

Mr Osman said 50,000 dollar fines for each of the planes would need to be paid before they could be released.

The average ransom paid to pirates has reached nearly five million dollars. The ransoms are often air-dropped down to hijacked ships. Somalia has been mired in conflict since long-time dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords in 1991 who then turned on each other.

The conflict inland has helped piracy flourish on the waters off the horn Africa country.

There were a record high 142 piracy attacks worldwide in the first quarter of this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a global maritime watchdog. Nearly 70% or 97 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 attacks in the same period a year earlier.

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