Doctor and nurse freed unharmed in Somalia

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Foreign minister denies USD 250,000 ransom was paid out.

3 January 2008

MADRID - A Spanish doctor and an Argentine nurse have been freed unharmed in northern Somalia, a week after being abducted by gunmen in the coastal city of Bosasso, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos said Wednesday.

Moratinos said Mercedes García, a 51-year-old doctor originally from León in northern Spain, and Pilar Bauza, a 26-year-old nurse from Buenos Aires, were due to spend last night in a hotel in Bosasso before being flown to Spain today.

"They are in a good state of health," Moratinos said.

Abdisamad Yusuf Mohammed, the trade minister of the semi-autonomous Puntland region around Bosasso, announced the release of the two Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) workers after a meeting between government officials and relatives of the kidnappers. Moratinos denied that Spain, Argentina, Médecins San Frontières or the Puntland government had paid the USD 250,000 ransom demanded by the gunmen.

"They did not get any money. Their freedom was achieved through negotiations and by working with the Somali authorities and the president of Puntland," Moratinos said.

García and Bauza were kidnapped on 26 December as they drove toward a Bosasso clinic where they had been overseeing a food distribution program for more than 7,000 children suffering from malnutrition after decades of civil war.

Médecins Sans Frontières expressed relief at García and Bauza's release and condemned the kidnapping.

"Such actions are unacceptable and jeopardise humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable populations, which is the reason why our two colleagues were working in Somalia," Paula Farias, the president of Médecins Sans Frontières in Spain, said in the statement.

[Copyright El Pais / A. EATWELL 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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