Somali gunmen release British hostage
Somali gunmen on Wednesday freed a Briton of Zimbabwean origin working for charity group Save the Children who they seized last week in a town in the central region of the war-torn country.
"I am well and free... and travelling back to Adado," Frans Barnard said on telephone, referring to the town where he was abducted last Thursday.
His Somali fixer, who had been seized with him, was freed unharmed the day after their capture.
Save the Children spokeswoman Anna Ford confirmed Barnard's release.
"I can confirm he has been released. He is under the protection of clan elders. He is safe and well and is moving to a safer location," Ford told AFP.
Barnard and his Somali aide were seized by heavily armed men in three vehicles who stormed into a guesthouse hosting aid workers from several organisations in the Adado region on Thursday night.
Security guards put up no resistance and no shots were exchanged.
Local elders involved in negotiations leading to Barnard's release said the kidnappers were paid 100,000 dollars.
"The hostage finally got his freedom around 5:00 am local time, he was freed after elders negotiated," Mohamed Abdulahi, an elder said.
"The gunmen asked for 150,000 dollars to free the hostage but they were only paid 100,000," one of the negotiators said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Ford said the charity group did not pay any money.
"We haven't paid any ransom. We haven't handed over any money. It was the clan elders who all came together to secure the release of our colleague. It was a point of honour and pride for them to secure his release," she said.
"As far as I'm aware no ransom was paid," she added.
She also confirmed that Barnard was a Zimbabwe-born British national.
Save the Children had been assessing the possibility of establishing a relief programme for malnourished children and their families in the area and Barnard was working for the group as a security consultant.
Nearly two decades of conflict has ruined the livelihoods of many Somalis, forcing them to camps for the displaced where they depend on humanitarian aid.
But several relief organisations have been forced out of the war-wracked country by the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents who control large swathes of southern and central Somalia.
Gangs thriving on the lawlessness have often kidnapped foreign aid workers, resulting in many humanitarian groups pulling out foreign staff.
The region where the two were seized had been relatively calm, but borders an area controlled by Shebab Islamists to the south. To the west, Somali pirates operate.
A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, has been held hostage for almost a year in this part of Somalia after their yacht was captured in the Indian Ocean, off the Seychelles.
Somalia has not had a central authority since plunging into civil war in 1991 and has since largely been run by rival armed groups.
The Western-backed transitional government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been unable to exert nationwide authority and has been boxed into a few streets in the capital Mogadishu by relentless Shebab attacks.
The weak government's survival is dependent on a contingent of African Union troops that have stopped the Shebab's drive for a total take-over of Mogadishu.
© 2010 AFP