- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AP) - Gunmen seized four U.N. workers on their way to an airstrip in a Somali town on Monday and released them several hours later, the U.N. said.

Gunmen seized the four _ three international staff members and one Somali _ in the southwestern town of Wajid, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of the Somali-Ethiopian border, on their way to an airstrip, the U.N. said. Wajid is the base for southern Somalia operations for U.N. agencies and other aid organizations.

U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq announced late Monday afternoon that “the four people who were abducted have now alll been released safely and are now in the hands of U.N. security.”

The U.N. staff members work for the World Food Program and the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. said.

A U.N. official said the three international staff members were from France, Azerbaijan and Ghana. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the nationalities of the international staffers have not yet been released.

There has been a series of recent attacks on aid workers in the Horn of Africa nation.

U.N. spokeswoman Dawn Blalock said no violence was reported during the abduction.

A witness said the workers had only been in Wajid for one night and were on their way to the town’s airstrip when they were seized. The witness asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation by the kidnappers.

According to the U.N., a total of 35 aid workers were killed in Somalia in 2008 and 26 were abducted. Two have been killed this year.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and is riven by clan warlords and an Islamist insurgency battling the weak U.N.-backed government. Nearly half its population of 7 million is dependent on aid.

___

Lederer reported from the United Nations. AP writers Katharine Houreld and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

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