France seeks aid workers' release in Somalia
Two French nationals are among the six kidnapped on Wednesday during a humanitarian mission in Somalia.
6 November 2008
PARIS - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner sought Wednesday to secure the release of four employees of a French charity group kidnapped during a humanitarian mission in Somalia.
The foreign ministry confirmed that two French nationals were among the four aid workers of the French NGO "Action Contre la Faim" (ACF - Action Against Hunger) who were seized Wednesday along with two pilots in central Somalia.
Kouchner "immediately alerted the ministry's crisis centre" and "is mobilising efforts in Paris and on the ground, with the concerned NGOs, to obtain the release of the kidnapped persons as quickly as possible," said a foreign ministry statement.
The Belgian foreign ministry earlier said two French nationals, a Belgian, a Bulgarian and two Kenyan pilots were taken hostage.
Somali witnesses said they were snatched by gunmen as they were trying to leave the airstrip in Dhusa Mareb, an Islamist stronghold in central Somalia.
French diplomats plan to keep a lid on their efforts to end the hostage crisis, with the ministry statement noting that "the highest degree of discretion is indispensable" to achieve results and protect hostage lives.
A spokeswoman for ACF in Paris earlier confirmed the kidnappings but declined to give details.
Meanwhile, a Somali armed group that kidnapped a Japanese woman and a Dutch man working for a French medical charity in Ethiopia demanded USD 3 million (EUR 2.32 million) to release their hostages on Wednesday.
The pair was working for Medecins du Monde when they were snatched in September.
They were later transferred to Mogadishu and their captors had initially demanded the release of Somalis detained in Ethiopia.
"We had demanded from the Ethiopian government that our brothers inside its jails be freed. Our demand was not met so we are now asking for three million dollars for the release of the hostages," the group's leader and spokesman Kulan Farah told AFP, speaking on the phone from an undisclosed location.
"We need the money to help release our men inside Ethiopian jails and this is a second chance we are offering," he said, adding that the hostages were in good health and well treated.
Ethiopian government forces have carried out devastating military operations in the Ogaden, a large southeastern region populated by ethnic Somalis where groups have been fighting for independence.
Armed Somali gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, often targeting either foreigners or Somalis working with international organisations to demand ransoms.
[AFP / Expatica]