Somali Gunmen Release Aid Workers
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Somali gunmen released two European aid workers unharmed Monday after holding them hostage for 55 days.
Francoise Deutsch, 46, of France, and Jonathan Ward, 31, of England, were kidnapped July 26 by armed raiders who stormed the office of the French aid agency, Action Against Hunger, in the Somali capital.
A convoy of pickup trucks, armed with anti-aircraft guns, carried Deutsch and Ward to a hotel, where they released Monday.
``We have been given enough food and water, and we have been treated well,″ said Ward, who was dressed in a traditional ``mawiss,″ a sarong-like garment worn by Somalians.
He told reporters he and Deutsch had been held together in a ``tiny room″ in a heavily fortified building somewhere in south Mogadishu. ``I will not be discouraged from my work with humanitarian efforts worldwide,″ he added.
Somalia descended into chaos after opposition leaders joined forces to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Factional leaders then fought with each other, turning the nation of 7 million into battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.
Action Against Hunger is one of the few international humanitarian organizations to remain in Somalia. Others pulled out after a U.N. force left in 1995 because of insecurity and the threat of kidnapping.
Deutsch, looking tired and wearing the flowing veils worn by Somali women, said her biggest worry had been the absence of news during their captivity.
Local businessmen said they had secured their ``unconditional release.″
``These efforts have been made to erase the bad image of Mogadishu,″ said Omar Sheik Ali, speaking on behalf of the businessmen.
Action Against Hunger issued a statement saying the agency had had no direct contact with the kidnappers, relying on ``traditional″ Somali negotiations to secure the release of their volunteers.
The agency said it wanted to emphasize that ``it had paid no ransom to obtain the freedom of its two volunteers.″
The agency said it was concerned about the increasing difficulty of carrying out humanitarian work in Mogadishu. It would not discuss the future of its projects in Somalia before further studying situation.
Reports in Mogadishu indicated Monday that a payment of as much as $80,000 may have been made to the kidnappers by the businessmen.
In its statement Action Against Hunger thanked Somalia’s President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and the international community.
In recent weeks, there has been hope that stability could be restored to Somalia following the last month’s inauguration of Hassan and a new 245-member Parliament.
Ward and Deutsch were expected to leave Mogadishu for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday.