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Five U.N. and European Union aid workers freed in Somalia

November 24, 1997

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Five U.N. and European aid workers kidnapped by militiamen in northeasern Somalia were released Monday morning and are in good health, a United Nations official said.

Agostino Paganini, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) operations in Somalia, told The Associated Press in Nairobi that all five were freed and were unharmed despite nearly three days in captivity.

``They are fine, okay, tired,″ Paganini said.

Fighters with the Wasangeli subclan kidnapped the five aid workers Friday, apparently in retaliation for the seizure of a Palestinian businessman by a rival subclan, the Marjeteen, earlier that day, the source said by satellite telephone from El Ayo.

The Palestinian _ a partner of two Somali charcoal dealers _ was freed Sunday as part of the negotiations. The reason for his kidnapping was not clear.

Attempting to rescue the hostages, the Marjeteen attacked the Wasangeli late Saturday, resulting in the deaths of two fighters on each side, the source said.

The five hostages include one British employee of the European Union and four United Nations aid workers: two Kenyans, an Indian and a Canadian, a U.N. source said on condition of anonymity.

One of the Kenyans was a woman, sources in El Ayo said Sunday.

The five were taken at gunpoint from a boat moored off El Ayo, in the northeast corner of the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland. The region declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991.

Aid workers often have been prime targets for dissatisfied Somali employees and the armed factions vying to control Somalia since a 1991 coup left the country without a central government.

Faction leaders in the southern Somalia port of Kismayo have promised the United Nations that they would not attack aid workers delivering relief to nearly 230,000 people left homeless by the worst flooding in decades. Those factions are independent, however, from the ones in Somaliland.

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