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SOMALIA: Hostages "tired but well"

Clan elders and the Somali Red Crescent Society entered a second day of negotiations on Thursday for the release of two foreign aid workers kidnapped in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, news agencies reported.

A statement released by the French relief agency, Action contre la Faim (ACF), identified the two as Francoise Deutch, 46, a French staff administrator, and Jonathan Ward, 31, a British logistician.

ACF said a third European volunteer hid when the compound was broken into in the early hours on Wednesday morning by militia men using vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

The volunteer had gone into hiding. Local newspapers said stolen ACF computers had appeared for sale in local markets by Thursday. Dr Sheikhdon Salad Elmi, director of Medina Hospital, was able to visit the hostages on behalf of ACF and the Red Crescent Society, the reports said.

He described them as tired, but well, and managed to arrange improved conditions. One of the Mogadishu-based faction leaders, Osman Hassan Ali Atto, admitted that militia men loyal to him had seized the two aid workers, AFP said.

He told the news agency that his men, working with militia from another sub-clan in southwest Mogadishu, had kidnapped the two foreigners "without my knowledge".

In a press release issued from New York, ACF said it had started its first relief programmes in Somalia in June 1992 and was "one of the few humanitarian organisations still assisting the Somali population".

It said despite precarious security conditions and frequent evacuations, ACF teams had been carrying out nutrition, water and sanitation and health programmes in the capital Mogadishu "where the largest concentration of the vulnerable populations live".

The team working in Somalia consisted of 12 international field workers and 350 Somali staff.

SOMALIA: Aideed defends Egypt

The pro-Hussein Aideed radio station has strongly defended Egypt's policy towards Somalia in a commentary which described Egypt as a "genuine friend" of Somalia.

In the report monitored by BBC radio, it said Egypt was one of the countries that strongly committed itself to helping beleaguered Somalia, by organising "several peace conferences in Cairo".

It had also helped with education and health, said the report. It said claims that the Egyptian government "is against the peace process" were baseless and obscured the positive role that Egypt had played: "May Somalia's relationship with Egypt continue to grow even stronger," it added.

Egypt has been the focus of demonstrations in southern Somalia and Djibouti, where it was accused of persuading Mogadishu-based faction leader Hussein Mohamed Aideed to carry out an eleventh-hour boycott of the Djibouti-hosted Somali National Peace Talks.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa said Egypt "fully supports" the Djbiouti peace initiative, the Egyptian news agency MENA reported.



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