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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK

World: Africa

Liberia hostages 'unharmed'

Dr Mike Roe (centre) said the group had not been harmed

The London-based medical aid agency Merlin says it has made radio contact with British hostages held by rebels in Liberia.

Six aid workers, including four Britons, were abducted at Kolahun, in the north-west of the West African country, near the borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea, between 0700 and 0800 local time on Wednesday. All are said to be well.

(Click here to see where hostages were captured)

The UK Foreign Office says it is doing all it can to secure their release. A British ambassador and a team of diplomats are being sent to the capital, Monrovia, to help negotiate with the kidnappers.

The BBC's James Robbins: "Another highly dangerous incident in west Africa"
A spokesman said it was "making clear to the Liberian Government that the safety of the abductees is the paramount consideration".

Three of the four British hostages have been named as midwife Sara Nam, 30, from Carmarthen in Wales, logistician David Heed, from Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, and doctor Mike Roe, 33, from London.

The three work for Merlin, while the fourth Briton, who is yet to be identified, works for the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

The other hostages, a Norwegian man and an Italian woman, work for Medecins Sans Frontieres. Both are reported to be experienced aid workers with knowledge of the region.

The British hostages are believed to have been in the country for between one and six months.

Liberia's Moni Kaptan: "We're not at the stage of talking about negotiations"
Merlin's medical director, Dr Bruce Laurence, said he had contacted Dr Roe by radio, who had reassured him that all were unharmed and well.

Sara Nam's mother, Agnes, was clearly relieved, and said: "We heard today that Sara and the group are held together somewhere in Liberia.

Agnes Nam, mother of hostage Sarah: "The hostages said they're well and are being well looked after"
"We don't know where, but we don't know who's got them, but they said they're in good spirits.

"We can't hope for more than that at the moment."

The charity's next aim was to get in touch with the kidnappers, Dr Laurence added.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Monrovia: A dangerous and unpredictable region
The kidnapping came as Liberia's President, Charles Taylor, announced the area had been invaded by dissidents from Guinea.

Liberia's Foreign Minister, Moni Kaptan, told the BBC the rebels appeared to be from from the ULIMO faction which opposed President Charles Taylor during the civil war and had found sanctuary in Guinea.

He said the government had no idea what demands the kidnappers would make.

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The Foreign Office is also talking to the Merlin agency and New York-based International Rescue Committee which the Britons worked for.

Many western non-governmental organisations are based in the region, which is home to many refugees from Sierra Leone.

The BBC West Africa Correspondent, Mark Doyle, says the kidnappings are likely to be connected to the fighting in the region, although the link is not yet clear.

Borders closed

In an emergency address to the nation, President Taylor said he had ordered the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone to be closed until further notice.

He said Kolahun and the surrounding area had been occupied and he was sending reinforcements to the region.

"This attack on Liberia comes in the wake of numerous public warnings by our government about dissidents being trained in Guinea with the sole purpose of destabilising our nation," he said.

He did not identify the dissident forces, but he has blamed previous border attacks on supporters of his former rivals during the Liberia's seven-year civil war which ended with the Abuja Peace Accords in 1997.

The kidnapping is just the latest in a string of incidents involving Britons in West Africa in recent weeks.

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