Three UN employees kidnapped in Somalia

Gunmen on Monday abducted three foreigners and a Somali working for the United Nations (UN) in southern Somalia, the latest in a string of kidnappings in the war-wracked nation.

“Four UN staff members were abducted early this morning by unknown armed men in Wajid, Somalia,” the UN said in a statement, without specifying 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 added.

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 on a stopover in Wajid, 340km south of the capital Mogadishu.

“While the general location of the four staff members is known, no contact with the abductors has been established so far,” the UN statement said.

Local elders confirmed the kidnapping and added that efforts were already underway to release the aid workers.

“There are efforts to release the aid workers and we are on the kidnappers’ trail. I hope this incident will be resolved quickly,” elder Mohamed Moalim Hasan told AFP.

The elder also said he believed the kidnappers were local militia who had recently expressed resentment over recruitment by the UN agencies in the area.

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 war-wracked Somalia.

UN agencies attempting to deliver 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 war-torn 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.

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 conflict 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.—Sapa-AFP

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