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Somalis Free Kidnapped Aid Workers

November 24, 1997

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Five foreign aid workers kidnapped by militiamen in northeastern Somalia were released unharmed today and are in good health despite three days of captivity.

Agostino Paganini, director of U.N. Children’s Fund operations in Somalia, told The Associated Press the one European Union and four U.N. workers were safe at the relief agency’s office in Bossasso.

``They are fine, OK, tired,″ Paganini said. The hostages were being flown to Nairobi later today.

They include one British employee of the European Union, two Kenyans, an Indian and a Canadian, the British Foreign Office said.

They were abducted Friday in the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, apparently in connection with a dispute over coal exports between two tribal clans, the Wasangeli and the Marjeteen.

Wasangeli fighters apparently staged the kidnapping to retaliate for the Marjeteen’s capture earlier that day of a Palestinian business partner of two Somali charcoal dealers, a U.N. source said.

The Marjeteen militia freed the Palestinian on Sunday on condition that the aid workers were let go, the source said.

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

Aid workers have often been targets of armed Somali factions vying for control of the country, which has had no central government since a 1991 coup ousted the president.

Faction leaders in the southern 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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