Talks on to free Briton seized by Somali gunmen

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Somali local leaders were negotiating Saturday with the kidnappers of a Briton snatched by gunmen near the Ethiopian border, his Somali aide said.

Bashir Lugey, who was released unharmed following the kidnapping late Thursday, told AFP by telephone in he was back home in the central town of Adado, the scene of fierce factional fighting this week.

"I'm free and back in Adado now, but that won't make any sense to me since my colleague is still in captivity," he said.

"We have hopes that he will be released soon as local clan elders and members from the (local) administration are working hard to achieving that."

Lugey added, "The negotiation efforts have already started and the local people who are very sorry about the unfortunate incident are now conducting efforts to free him from the militants."

He gave no details of the efforts of the local elders or the identity of the kidnappers.

The unnamed Briton, who also has Zimbabwean nationality, was working for the British Save the Children charity.

Witnesses and colleagues said heavily-armed men in three vehicles burst into their compound in the Adado region on Thursday night. Security guards put up no resistance and no shots were exchanged.

Save the Children spokeswoman Anna Ford said Friday the charity had been assessing the possibility of establishing a relief programme for malnourished children and their families in the area.

"We are extremely concerned about the welfare of those being held and urgently call upon whoever is holding them captive to release them unconditionally," she said.

Adado was engulfed by heavy clashes Friday when fighters of the Sufi sect Ahlu Sunna attacked and captured the town from a local militia that had been controlling it.

Local authorities said the fighters had later abandoned Adado and headed south to help regain control of Dhusamareb, which had fallen to radical Islamic Shebab militia on Friday.

The authorities said the Shebab had in their turn abandoned Dhusamareb because they were outnumbered.

Omar Abdiwahab, an elder in Adado said, "The officials of the local administration and their security forces returned last night hours after the Sufis moved out from town, the situation is quiet now and people are resuming their business activities as usual."

The Himan and Heeb region is relatively calm but borders an area controlled by Shebab Islamists to the south while Somali pirates operate to the east.

A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, have 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 a civil war with the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre and has since been largely governed by rival armed groups.

Gangs thriving on the lawlessness have often kidnapped foreign aid workers, forcing many humanitarian groups to pull out foreign staff while the Shebab have banned operations of several relief organisations in regions they control.

© 2010 AFP

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