Aid worker shot dead at hospital in Somalia

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The Independent Online

An Italian woman who devoted more than 30 years to working with Somalis suffering from tuberculosis and famine, has been shot dead in the breakaway state of Somaliland.

Annalena Tonelli, 60, who was awarded this year's Nansen prize, given annually for outstanding work by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was killed in the grounds of the hospital she founded at Borama, in the far north-west of Somalia.

Abdulkadir Suleman Ali, a local government official in Borama, said: "The man waited for Annalena Tonelli outside one of the tuberculosis wards, under the shade of a tree. He fired two rounds from a pistol at her forehead." No one has been arrested, and the motive is not known.

Dr Tonelli was a devout Christian who knew from a young age that she wanted to work among the poor. She never attempted to proselytise, living as a Christian in rigidly orthodox Muslim communities, slowly winning their affection by her devotion.

She worked first among Somalis living in north-east Kenya, then later in Somalia. For years she helped famine-struck communities in the south of the country, an experience she said was "so traumatising that it put my faith in danger". Later she founded two hospitals in Somaliland. A lawyer by training, she later gained several diplomas in medicine, including one from London in tropical medicine.

Naming her for the Nansen prize in April, Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "Dr Tonelli lives a modest life, eating the same food she gives her patients and she owns no property. Over the past three decades ... her quiet devotion to helping those in need is living proof that individuals can still make a tremendous difference." Yesterday he added: "She dedicated her life to helping others, carrying out her noble mission in remote, difficult places little noticed by the outside world. In doing so she touched the lives of thousands of people. We mourn the loss of a truly great woman."

Dr Tonelli was born and raised in Forli, near Italy's Adriatic coast. She inspired huge affection and support in her home town, where the local people raised €20,000 (£14,000) a month to keep her work going. A local group called the Committee for the Struggle against World Hunger co-ordinated the effort to help her. Yesterday Ivano Natali, a member, said: "We are incredulous about the killing. As a solitary woman she was in danger and under threat for 35 years, but no harm befell her until now. She was always working to support the rights of Somalis."