Three foreigners working for the United Nations have been kidnapped by armed men in southern Somalia, UN sources and witnesses say.
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).
They were snatched on their way to an air strip near Wajid, 340 kilometres south of the capital Mogadishu, early on Monday.
“The three UN aid workers, two western and a Kenyan, were heading to the airfield to leave for Nairobi when gunmen intercepted their car and kidnapped them,” he said.
He 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 on their way back to Kenya.
Local militia blamed for kidnap
Local elders confirmed the kidnapping and added that efforts were already under way 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,” said Mohamed Moalim Hasan.
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.
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.
Nuns, mine worker released
Four World Food Programme (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.
A foreign mine worker abducted in Puntland was also freed last month.
There is still no word of 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 $US2.5 million dollars.