- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AP) - Gunmen seized four U.N. workers who were on their way to an airstrip as they prepared to leave a town in Somalia on Monday, an official and witness said.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on aid workers in the Horn of Africa nation.

U.N. spokeswoman Dawn Blalock said no violence was reported during the abduction in the southwestern town of Wajid, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of the Somali-Ethiopian border. No contact had been made with the kidnappers.

“The United Nations and the local authorities … are doing everything to secure the unconditional release of the staff,” said Blalock, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A witness said a Somali interpreter was later released, but Blalock could not confirm that. She later said three of the U.N. workers were foreigners and one was a Somali. She declined to give the nationalities of the others.

The witness said they 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. Wajid is the base for southern Somalia operations for U.N. agencies and other aid organizations.

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

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

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AP writers Katharine Houreld and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS locator.)

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