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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
Aid workers kidnapped in Somalia
Aid workers' vehicles are often stolen and used by gunmen
Rival militia groups control different parts of Mogadishu
A British man and a French woman have been kidnapped by heavily armed gunmen in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

The Briton has been named as Jonathan Ward, 31. Both are employees of the French aid agency, Action Against Hunger (ACF).

Somalia has been without a central government since 1991 and is carved up into territories ruled by competing warlords and militia leaders.

We think the robbers panicked when they found Europeans there and not knowing what to do, they took them

British High Commission

The agency said the abduction of its two workers took place at the agency's compound, in the south of Mogadishu, and it was now negotiating for their release.

"Negotiations are in process," said ACF worker Yann Libessart in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"That's all I can say, our communications are difficult with Mogadishu and we don't want to jeopardise the process."

A spokesman for the British High Commission in Nairobi said: "The details are all a bit sketchy at the moment.

"We believe it happened during a robbery on the camp. We think the robbers panicked when they found Europeans there and not knowing what to do, they took them."

The south of Mogadishu is controlled by warlord Hussein Aideed and the north by his rival Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Kidnappings common

No group has yet admitted the abductions and no reason has yet emerged for the incident.

International aid workers have been taken hostage in the past in Mogadishu, but for a variety of reasons.

Other kidnappings
1998 - 9 foreign aid workers held for 10 days
1995 - 21 foreigners abducted in Baidoa
1994 - Frenchman held for five months
Sometimes a ransom has been demanded, sometimes the gunmen of one militia leader have been angry that jobs at a certain agency, which is seen as being lucrative, have been given to members of a competing group.

In order to minimise risk to their staff, international aid organisations often work through local agencies in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia.

There have been several attempts by the international community to broker peace.

The latest is a conference being hosted by neighbouring Djibouti, which has brought together several hundred delegates representing different interest groups.

But not everyone in Somalia supports the initiative.

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See also:

17 Nov 99 | Africa
The boring life of a warlord
06 Apr 99 | Africa
Gunning for the money in Somalia
24 Jul 00 | Africa
Government-in-exile for Somalia?
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