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Amanda Lindhout, seen in photo provided to media last December, spoke at a dinner held in her honour on Sunday in Calgary by Alberta's Somali community. ((Sass Communications))

Freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout, who was held hostage for more than 15 months in Somalia, spoke publicly for the first time Sunday night at a dinner in her honour held by Alberta's Somali community in Calgary.

Lindhout said that while she can't forgive the horrors she endured, she understands her captors have never known a life without war.

She spoke warmly about the people she met before she was snatched off the side of the road outside the capital of Mogadishu in August 2008, and expressed compassion for the Somali youth who have grown up both the victims and perpetrators of violence.

"It's obvious that decades of war are producing generations who have never known anything but conflict," she told the crowded community hall in Calgary.

"Despite my own suffering and without condoning what was done to me, I feel those inflicting the violence, while certainly not innocent, are deeply wounded and war traumatized individuals."

Seated at a table with four friends and her mother and father, Lindhout, of Sylvan, Alta, looked poised in a black blazer and green scarf but declined to speak with reporters.

Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were abducted together while working as freelance journalists.

Family comes to the rescue

After the Canadian and Australian governments failed to secure their release, their parents hired a private hostage negotiation group. Last November, Brennan and Lindhout were freed for a ransom that has been reported at between $500,000 and $1 million.

Lindhout had not spoken publicly about her ordeal, beyond a statement before Christmas that thanked those who helped her.

She revealed little more on Sunday about the time she spent in captivity, other than to thank a Somali woman whom she said risked her life in an attempt to free her.

"Her courage is a stunning example of one human being's instinct to protect another. She did not know me, yet she called me her sister," she said.

"And while she was ultimately not able to save me, she did touch my life in a profound way that I will never forget."

Lindhout remained composed throughout her speech, but wept as she watched a video put together by the Somali community thanking her for her bravery and calling her a hero.

She said she continues to think of those who suffer in the country and wants their story to be told.

"I have the unique chance to actually experience what freedom itself feels like, but you can only feel freedom if you know what it feels like to not have it."

Simple things such as seeing the sky and feeling the sun on her face are filled with a new joy, she said.

Lindhout was cheered by her audience as she concluded her speech by saying, "My wish for Somalia is to experience freedom. To become free from poverty, free from hunger and free from the violence which imprisons its people. I hold a vision of peace for Somalia."