Somali troops in bid to rescue minister from pirates

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Troop reinforcements in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland have been deployed to help rescue a government minister kidnapped by pirates.

Ports Minister Said Mohamed Rageh is reportedly being held in the remote town of Jariban - a pirate stronghold.

His convoy was ambushed twice on Friday - and he was taken captive on the second attempt.

Analysts say the incident is a blow to the Puntland administration which has taken a hard line against piracy.

The BBC's Ahmed Mohamed Ali in Garowe says two people were killed in the ambushes on Friday - one person on the pirates' side when security guards opened fire in the initial ambush and a guard in the evening attack.

Negotiations for Mr Rageh's release are continuing with local elders, our reporter says.

For the last five years, Puntland - the north-eastern Somali region that declared itself autonomous in 1998 - has been the hub of Somali piracy operations, particularly in the Gulf of Aden.

Last month, a pirate ringleader was sentenced to death for killing the Pakistani skipper of a hijacked cargo ship.

About half of Puntland's prison population is made up of pirates.

Somalia has not had an effective central government for more than 19 years and is plagued by insecurity.

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