Gunman fires on MPs being freed by Somali captors: Britons 'used as pawns in local dispute' are released. Steve Boggan and Colin Brown report

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The Independent Online
A SOMALI gunman opened fire on two British Members of Parliament and an aid worker yesterday as they were being released from a 24-hour kidnap ordeal.

Conservative Mark Robinson and Labour's Tony Worthington were forced to run for cover with Jeff Chinnock of ActionAid in the final tense moments of negotiations to secure their freedom. None of the men was injured.

They had been held captive since Wednesday night when their convoy was stopped by gunmen near ActionAid's compound at Erigavo, in the northern Somali republic of Somaliland. Charity workers said they had been treated with courtesy while local elders negotiated their release, but things went badly wrong as they walked away from their captors yesterday.

Last night, Mr Chinnock, 31, contacted ActionAid by radio. 'The final moments were scary,' he said. 'All the gunmen had put down their arms and we were free to go. But then one started shooting. We ran under fire to the safety of the elders' Land Rover.'

He said the three were 'shaken, but well' and had been given food and water while they were held.

Heather Budge-Reid, a spokeswoman for ActionAid, said the men were taken to a village a mile's drive from the charity's compound by a clan that had been disgruntled over a lack of representation in local politics. The gunmen had hoped the stunt would give them a higher profile. 'It obviously got a bit hairy at the end, but this wasn't like kidnappings in Beirut; until then the men had been treated with courtesy while the community elders sorted out the problem,' she said.

Mr Robinson, 47, MP for Somerton and Frome, is parliamentary private secretary to Baroness Chalker, Minister of State for Overseas Aid. Mr Worthington, 52, MP for Clydebank and Milngavie, is a Labour foreign affairs spokesman. They were on a week-long fact-finding mission when they were held.

Three other members of the party, Anne Johnstone, a Glasgow Herald journalist, Robin Lemare, an aid worker, and Haroon Youssef, a local ActionAid employee, were also taken but soon released.

The MPs will be out of contact until being flown to Djibouti today, but Ms Johnstone, who was freed before the shooting incident, contacted her paper, saying: 'We were well-treated and there was no question of banditry. They wanted to take us so that they could use us as a bargaining tool.'

The MPs' wives, Vivien Robinson and Angela Worthington, said they were 'delighted and relieved' last night, but Labour backbenchers predicted Mr Worthington's problems were only just beginning.

Don Dixon, the party's deputy chief whip, was said to be preparing to discipline Mr Worthington because he had been refused permission to attend the fact-finding mission as ActionAid's guest. 'He was told he was needed here to vote on our debate on the Child Support Act,' one MP said. 'He might wish he was still in custody when he gets back. He'd be better off with a Somali warlord than Don Dixon.'