Two foreign workers kidnapped in Somalia

The workers, a Briton and a Kenyan, were abducted by armed men Tuesday in southern Somalia, the latest in a string of attacks targeting humanitarian operations in the restive country.


A Briton and a Kenyan initially identified as UN aid workers were abducted by armed men Tuesday in southern Somalia in the latest in a string of attacks targeting humanitarian operations.

Local elders said gunmen opened fire during the attack and one of the hostages was slightly wounded.

However UN officials later explained in Rome that the two were not actually members of the staff of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency, as originally reported.

They said the victims were in fact working for an Indian-based group sub-contracted to do aerial survey work for the FAO.

Confirming the nationalities and the abductions, the FAO said they were employees of Genesys International Corporation, an information technology firm based in Bangalore, India.

In a communique published at FAO headquarters in Rome, it said Genesys was operating in Somalia under contract to the FAO.

In Somalia, Genesys undertakes aerial surveys to prepare detailed maps in order to help sections of the population affected by floods caused by rises in the water level of the Juba and Shabelle rivers.

Local district commissioner Ibrahim Noleye originally told AFP "two foreign aid workers from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) were intercepted by armed militiamen on their way to Buale."

"We believe they are being held hostage," he added.

"There is one from Kenya and the other is British. I have worked on projects with them before," said a Somali aid worker on condition of anonymity.

Several local elders confirmed the nationalities and the British foreign office in London said it was urgently investigating the incident.

The abduction took place on a road leading to Buale, in Somalia's southern Lower Jubba region, north of the city of Kismayo.

The district commissioner said he would send security forces to the area where the attack occurred.

The kidnapped staffers were believed to be working on a project for the Somalia Water and Land Information Management, a branch of the FAO, at the time of the abduction.

Aid workers, notably foreigners, have been increasingly targeted across Somalia in recent months.

A German aid worker was briefly held hostage by gunmen in northern Somalia in mid-February, and three staff of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) were killed by a roadside bomb in January in Kismayo, causing the international NGO to pull its foreign staff out of Somalia.

Late last year, two MSF workers were abducted in the northern region of Puntland days after a French cameraman was also snatched. All three were eventually released unharmed.

A number of top international aid agencies said last month that the Horn of Africa country had become too dangerous for its workers.

"Attacks on, and killings of aid workers, the looting of relief supplies, and a lack of respect for international humanitarian law by all parties have left two million Somalis in need of basic humanitarian assistance," they said.

The 39 organisations -- including Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children -- issued their warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe ahead of a UN Security Council debate.

"There are now more than one million internally displaced people in Somalia. Intense conflict in Mogadishu continues to force an average of 20,000 people from their homes each month," they said in a joint statement.

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