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Somali Militia Abducts French, British Aid Workers

Twenty heavily armed militiamen stormed into an aid agency compound in the Somali capital Mogadishu Wednesday and abducted a French woman and a British man, French aid agency Action contre la Faim said.

Witnesses said the young gunmen disarmed security guards at the ACF compound before storming in with a ``technical'' -- a pick-up truck mounted with a heavy machinegun -- and snatching the two ACF workers.

ACF said it was negotiating the release of its two employees but declined to give further details. ``Negotiations are in process,'' said Yann Libessart, an ACF program officer in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

``That's all I can say, our communications are difficult with Mogadishu and we don't want to jeopardize the process.''

A spokesman at the British High Commission in the Kenyan capital Nairobi said he had been told the hostages were unharmed. Somalia has been without a central government since 1991 and is carved up into fiefdoms ruled by feuding militia factions.

Most foreign embassies have been closed since then. The capital is split in two, the south controlled by warlord Hussein Aideed and his allies and the north by his rival Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

The identity of the abductors has not been confirmed but residents said one of them had been fired from his post as an ACF security guard a few days earlier.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid agencies to operate.

Violence and lawlessness have forced many of the major agencies to withdraw their expatriate staff altogether. In April 1998, 10 Red Cross staff were abducted in Mogadishu but released unharmed after nine days.

A UNICEF doctor was shot dead in an ambush in central Somalia last September.



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