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5 Aid Staff Safe; 4 Missing in Somalia

March 28, 2001

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Five foreign aid workers trapped by militia fighting have been moved to safety in a hotel in the capital but four others were still missing, a Somali official and aid agency representatives said Wednesday.

The aid workers _ two Spaniards, a Briton, an American and a French national _ were taken to the Hotel Ramadan in Mogadishu, said Dahir Dayah, the interior minister of the national transitional government. Two Somali aid workers caught up in the fighting were also with them.

The Spaniards, French and Somalis work for the French agency Medecins sans Frontieres, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders. The Briton and the American work for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF. Officials said arrangements were being made to send an aircraft to Mogadishu to return the five to Nairobi.

Two vehicles carrying the foreign aid workers got separated Tuesday from a convoy that came under attack by gunmen loyal to faction leader Musa Sude Yalahow as it left the medical relief group’s compound in north Mogadishu.

U.N. spokeswoman Sonya Laurence Green said the four missing U.N. employees ``have not been precisely located″ but are believed to be ``in the hands of Musa Sude Yalahow.″

Yalahow was in Ethiopia Wednesday to meet with other faction leaders opposed to the new government in Somalia, the country’s first central government since 1991.

Spokeswomen for Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya, confirmed they had not heard from the four missing aid workers, who work for UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Local reports said two of the four _ an Algerian and a Belgian _ were being held in Yalahow’s compound, while the other two _ both Britons _ were under guard in a nearby garage in the Karan neighborhood of north Mogadishu.

Local reports said at least 14 Somalis died in Tuesday’s fighting and that another 40 were injured. There was no fighting in Mogadishu Wednesday morning.

The five freed aid workers met with Prime Minister Ali Khalid Gallaydh Wednesday, who apologized for the incident.

``We used all of our means and will continue using it for the safe release of those still missing,″ he said.

Gallaydh criticized U.N. security officers for allowing a meeting of aid workers to take place so close to one of Yalahow’s militias. He accused the United Nations of ignoring security warnings and refusing to accept security offered by the new government.

``Then when something happens, the government is blamed,″ Gallaydh complained.

Dayah, the interior minister, said the government’s new militia was working on the release of the four other foreign aid workers.

``If they don’t release them unconditionally, of course we will use force for their release,″ he said.

On Tuesday, an aide to Yalahow, who opposes the Mogadishu administration, said the incident would demonstrate to the world that President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, who is attending the Arab Summit in Amman, Jordan, doesn’t even exercise control over the Somali capital.

Although both Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations refrained from referring to the aid workers as hostages, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Tuesday that the United States ``wants to make clear that hostage taking is unacceptable.″

He said U.S. officials were coordinating with U.N. security officers to secure their release.

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