Four aid workers end long hostage ordeal in Somalia.

Four aid workers

Halkaan ka akhri

PARIS (AFP) – Four aid workers from a French charity and two Kenyan pilots were freed in Somalia on Tuesday after being held hostage for nine months, officials said.

The two French women, a Belgian and a Bulgarian working for Action Contre La Faim (ACF – Action Against Hunger) boarded a plane and were flown to safety out of Somalia, a spokeswoman for ACF said.

“Apparently all in good health, they’ll have a medical check-up,” said the relief organisation in a statement.

Somali gunmen had seized the four aid workers last November along with two pilots who were accompanying them to an area bordering Ethiopia.

The gunmen snatched the eight on November 5 as they were trying to leave the airstrip in Dhusa Mareb, an Islamist stronghold in central Somalia, to fly to Nairobi.

Witnesses had said the aid workers were escorted by five or six security guards when they tried to board the plane chartered by the European Commission but that they were easily overpowered by about 20 heavily-armed men.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was pleased and relieved by the news that the aid workers and pilots were now free, a statement released by the Elysee presidential palace said.

The French head of state “offers his warmest congratulations to all those whose involvement brought an end to the hostage-taking,” it added, without elaborating.

There was no immediate information on the circumstances of the hostages’ release.

The end of the aid workers’ ordeal came as France was grappling with a separate hostage-taking case involving two French intelligence agents seized last month from their hotel room in Mogadishu.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that France was seeking the rapid release of the two men and that talks were under way with two Islamist militias thought to be holding them.

The Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired militia believed to be holding them, said last month that the two men would be tried under sharia law, for “spying and entering Somalia to assist the enemy of Allah.”

Armed Somali gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, often targeting foreigners or Somalis working with international organisations to demand ransoms.

The relentless violence and insecurity has made Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world for foreign workers.

ACF has been doing relief work in Somalia since 1992, carrying out health and water sanitation projects around Mogadishu, the Bakool region in central Somalia and Galgadud in the southwest.

Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Geoffrey Brennan, abducted on August 23 last year, are also yet to be freed.

Somalia has been without an effective government since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamad Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle.

Source:   AFP

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