HARGEISA, Somalia, May 31 (Reuters) - The president of the breakaway enclave of Somaliland on Thursday commuted death sentences against two men convicted of killing four foreign aid workers to life in jail after foreign appeals.
The move came amid strenuous diplomatic efforts by the self-declared independent republic, in the north-west of Somalia in the Horn of Africa, to gain international recognition.
"The death sentence on two of the terrorists has been changed to life ... in a pardon," said a statement on behalf of the president of Somaliland, Dahir Rayale Kahin.
"The cancelling of the death sentence was in response to families and governments of the humanitarian workers killed who requested the death sentence should not be carried out."
Italian aid worker Annalena Tonelli was shot dead in 2003, British teachers Richard and Enid Eyeington were killed in October 2003, and Kenyan aid worker Flora Chepkemoi was gunned down at a roadblock outside the capital, Hargeisa, in March 2004.
The Somaliland Supreme Court had last month ordered death sentences, to be carried out by firing squad, against locals Jama Abdi Ismael and Mohamed Abdi Essa for the killings.
But Somaliland had received appeals from partners and friends abroad to commute that to life imprisonment, Foreign Minister Abdillahi Duale told Reuters earlier this month.
Another dozen men implicated in the killings had their lengthy jail sentences reduced substantially, the presidential statement added.
Despite relative stability in Somaliland compared with the rest of anarchic Somalia, the killings of the foreigners raised fears extremist activity was on the rise there.
But the government said the successful convictions showed it was vigilant and stamping out the threat.
Despite declaring independence in 1991 and winning plenty of plaudits for its democratic advances, Somaliland has so far not been formally recognised by one other country.
A former British protectorate with semi-desert terrain roughly the size of England and Wales and a population of 3.5 million people, Somaliland broke away after warlords toppled Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre 16 years ago.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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