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Africa

Four kidnapped UN aid workers are freed

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Latest update : 2009-03-16

Three foreign aid workers and a Somali employed by the United Nations were freed on Monday, just hours after being kidnapped by local militiamen in southern Somalia, UN staff said, thanks to negotiations led by elders and officials.

AFP - Three foreign aid workers and a Somali employed by the United Nations were freed Monday, hours after being kidnapped by local militiamen in southern Somalia, elders and UN staff said.
  
The four were snatched from their car by armed men on their way to an airstrip in Wajid, a food aid hub 340 kilometres (210 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, early in the morning.
  
"Efforts to secure their release were conducted by local elders and officials from the Shebab movement. These efforts have finally succeeded and the hostages are free," a local UN employee said on condition of anonymity.
  
The Shebab are a hardline Islamist organisation opposed to the national unity government led by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and who control large swathes of the troubled Horn of Africa country.
  
Officials had said that the kidnapping was likely motivated by resentment among some clans over perceived imbalance in UN recruitment for local jobs.
  
A local elder told AFP that no ransom was paid to obtain the four aid workers' release.
  
"The hostages were freed unconditionally and they are now safe in their compound," Abdullahi Nur Yerow said. "There were talks between the kidnappers and local elders, who contributed to their release."
  
The United Nations in a statement had confirmed the kidnapping earlier but did not specify the hostages' nationalities.
  
"They were on their way to the airport when their convoy was stopped by gunmen. No violence or shooting was reported to have occurred during the incident," the statement said.
  
A local UN employee who asked not to be named said the four work for the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
  
The UN employee added the hostages had recently flown back from the city of Hargeysa, in the northern self-declared state of Somaliland, and were making a stopover in Wajid on their way to Nairobi.
  
The WFP has offices in Wajid, a major food distribution centre for the region.
  
Jobs with UN agencies are highly sought after in the impoverished country and recruitment is often a source of tension, with local clans and sub-clans demanding equal shares.
  
Kidnappings of foreign aid workers and journalists by ransom-seeking armed groups are frequent in conflict-wracked Somalia.
  
UN agencies attempting to deliver food aid to the 3.25 million Somalis it estimates need humanitarian support have been repeatedly targeted.
  
Four WFP employees have been killed in the Horn of Africa country since August last year.
  
Two elderly Italian nuns kidnapped on the Kenyan side of the border in November were recently released after being held for three months and a foreign mine worker abducted in Puntland was also freed last month.
  
There is still no word from a Canadian journalist and an Australian photographer abducted last August, although a Somali journalist and two drivers taken with them were released in January.
  
A tribal chief negotiating their release said in September the kidnap gang wanted a ransom of 2.5 million dollars (1.95 million euros).
  
Four aid workers employed by the French NGO Action Contre la Faim (Action against hunger) and their two Kenyan pilots have been held hostage in Somalia since November.
  
The spate of kidnappings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in Somalia, a country long plagued by civil wars and humanitarian emergencies.
  
The country has had no effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.
 

Date created : 2009-03-16

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