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Longtime Humanitarian Killed in Somalia

October 6, 2003

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ A Italian aid worker who spent more than three decades helping Somalis was shot and killed outside the hospital she founded to treat tuberculosis patients, officials said Monday.

Annalena Tonelli, 60, was shot twice in the head by a gunman at around 8 p.m. Sunday in the northwestern town of Borama, said Abdulkadir Suleman Ali, a local government official.

``The man waited for Annalena Tonelli outside one of the tuberculosis wards in the hospital under the shade of a tree,″ Ali said by telephone. ``The man fired two rounds from a pistol at her forehead.″

The motive for the killing was not known and no one has been detained in connection with the shooting, Ali said.

Tonelli had worked with Somalis in Somalia and neighboring Kenya for 33 years, setting up clinics to fight tuberculosis and creating awareness about AIDS and the harmful effects of female circumcision.

A lawyer by training, Tonelli earned diplomas in tropical medicine, community medicine and disease control to better carry out her work, according to a statement from the U.N. refugee agency.

She had been in Borama since 1996, using donations from friends and family to set up a 200-bed hospital for tuberculosis patients. She was supposed to inaugurate a new wing for the hospital on Monday, Ali said.

Borama, 580 miles northwest of Mogadishu, is in the region of Somaliland, which declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 as civil war raged. Somalia has been beset by chaos and violence since longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

The Horn of Africa nation has not had an effective central government since Siad Barre’s ouster, and much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed, causing Somalis to rely on aid groups and charities for health care.

Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the agency was devastated by Tonelli’s death. In June, Lubbers had presented Tonelli with the agency’s $100,000 Nansen Refugee Award in recognition of her work.

``She dedicated her life to helping others, carrying out her noble mission in remote, difficult places little noticed by the outside world,″ Lubbers said in a statement. ``In doing so, she touched the lives of thousands of people, demonstrating that individuals can still make a huge difference. We mourn the loss of a truly great woman.″

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