Somalis kidnap aid worker

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The Independent Online
UNITED NATIONS officials said last night that negotiations had begun for the release of a British aid worker kidnapped at gunpoint in Mogadishu yesterday morning - but this was later denied.

World Food Programme Officials were quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that negotiations had begun with the Somali gunmen who kidnapped Calum Gardner, the finance officer for the WFP in Mogadishu. The gunmen had said he was unharmed. But a spokesman for the UN Security Office in Mogadishu said he knew nothing about negotiations and UN rules did not authorise individual UN personnel to enter such negotiations.

Mr Gardner, 35, was grabbed by three gunmen as he walked across a street in south Mogadishu between two WFP offices, and driven away. The men had been waiting in the car for some time, according to colleagues. Gemmo Londesani, country director of the WFP, said: 'I think they were waiting for somebody and the best moment . . . I know of no specific reasons for the kidnapping. We have no real ongoing threat against us.'

UN officials said they suspected banditry or a personal grudge as a motive for the kidnap though they would not rule out the possibility of an attack by Islamic fundamentalists. The WFP office in south Mogadishu is in an area controlled by the Somali National Alliance led by General Mohamed Farah Aideed.

Aid workers have been attacked for sacking or laying off local Somali workers and Mr Gardner as chief administrator was responsible for hiring and firing for the WFP.

There has been a spate of attacks against aid workers recently. In December, gunmen killed a driver working for Save the Children Fund while stealing his car. And on Christmas Eve three grenades were thrown at aid agency buildings in Baidoa. An American aid worker was killed by bandits in November and an Italian nurse shot dead last month. Also last month gunmen seized a worker for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the northern town of Hargeisa and demanded a ransom but he was freed after negotiations.

Mr Gardner, an accountant, worked for Save the Children Fund in Somalia between October 1992 and November last year when he suddenly transferred to WFP. He is a self-contained, formal person who rarely mixed with Somalis and worked in the office rather than in the field.

United States military authorities said yesterday they were investigating whether US sharpshooters killed a pregnant Somali woman selling tea outside a Mogadishu hospital on Sunday.

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