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Gunmen kidnap aid workers in Somalia

Three aid workers - two Italians and a Somali - were kidnapped in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, south of Mogadishu. The three were working for an Italian non-governmental organisation called Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud (CINS).

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Three aid workers -- two Italians and a Somali -- were kidnapped by gunmen Wednesday in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, a security official and a local elder told AFP.

"Three aid workers, among them two Italians, a man and a woman, were kidnapped early this morning by armed men who blindfolded them and took them away," local elder Mohamed Ibrahim Ali told AFP.

A local security official confirmed the kidnapping and said the security forces were trying to locate the hostages.

"We are currently investigating who kidnapped them and where they were taken," Ali Mohamed Gele told AFP.

The kidnapping took place at around 6:30 a.m. (0330 GMT) in the village of Awdhegle, 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu.

The three humanitarians were in Somalia working for an Italian non-governmental organisation called Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud (CINS), or North-South Italian Cooperation, both officials said.

The elder said the third hostage was Abderahman Yusuf Arale, the local head of the Italian aid group.

Aid workers, including foreigners, have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups in Somalia in recent months.

The spate of kidnappings and killings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in the Horn of Africa country, where the UN says one of the world's worst humanitarian catastrophes is unfolding.

On May 13, gunmen abducted a Kenyan teaching at Mogadishu University.

Kidnappers are also holding two aid workers: a Kenyan and a Briton, seized in April in southern Somalia whose whereabouts remain unknown.

In early May, gunmen killed a truck driver working for the World Food Programme in central Somalia.

The United Nations and aid groups have scaled down operations in Somalia owing to increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a deadly guerrilla war since they were ousted by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

Amnesty International has pleaded with the militants to end the kidnapping and killing of foreign workers in Somalia -- a nation where 2.6 million Somalis, including a million displaced people, require help to feed themselves.

Earlier this month, Islamist rebels pledged to kill foreigners and pro-government supporters after US airstrikes killed their leader Aden Hashi Ayro, who was accused of being the Al-Qaeda leader in the country.

The United Nations is currently trying to build trust between the government and moderate Islamists at talks that were launched on May 12 in Djibouti.
  

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