Two UN contract workers kidnapped in Somalia

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two foreign aid workers attached to a United Nations (UN) project were kidnapped in southern Somalia on Tuesday. The UN stated that the two men, one British and one Kenyan, were abducted at gunpoint while conducting a survey of local rivers. The men were taken hostage on a road leading to Bu'aale, in the southern Lower Jubba region of Somalia.

Lower Jubba region in Somalia.
Image: Sven-steffen arndt.

Briton Murray Watson was abducted along with his Kenyan colleague, Patrick Amukhuma, by six armed militiamen who ambushed their armed convoy. The abduction took place on a main road between Saakow and Bu'aale.

Gunfire was exchanged between Somali bodyguards and militia members. According to Agence France-Presse, local elders said that the gunmen fired shots during the attack and wounded one of the hostages, and The Daily Telegraph reported that witnesses said Watson was wounded in the leg.

Local district commissioner Ibrahim Noleye spoke with Agence France-Presse about the incident: "two foreign aid workers from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were intercepted by armed militiamen on their way to Buale ... We believe they are being held hostage".

Amos Nyaoro of Somalia Water and Land Information Management, the UN-supported agency where Watson was working, told The Daily Telegraph: "We are attempting to make contact with the people who abducted our colleagues. It is unclear why this attack has taken place. We understand that Mr Watson has been hurt, but we don't know the extent of his injuries."

Reuters has reported that local militias were pursuing the kidnappers in an attempt to free the hostages, and local clan elders are pressing for their release. Hajir Bille, an official from the Juba region in Somalia, told the Associated Press that security forces were looking for the abductors.

Witnesses on the ground say there was gunfire when the men were taken, but there is no information to suggest that any serious injury was sustained by either man.

United Nations country office for Somalia

A statement released by the UN country office for Somalia addressed reports that one of the men kidnapped had been wounded: "Witnesses on the ground say there was gunfire when the men were taken, but there is no information to suggest that any serious injury was sustained by either man." Reuters has reported that the hostages are being held "in or near" the town of Jilib.

UN officials in Rome, Italy said that the two men worked for an Indian-based group sub-contracted to do aerial survey work for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations agency. The men are not themselves members of the FAO, but are employees of Genesys International Corporation, an information technology company in Bangalore, India.

Genesys International Corporation performs aerial surveys in Somalia which help the area population deal with flooding due to a rise in water level of the Juba and Shabelle rivers.

Western companies and organizations have paid ransoms to free their employees, and kidnappings in the area have increased as a result. In recent months attacks on foreigners in Somalia have increased, but had been localized to the northern region of Puntland. Médecins Sans Frontières withdrew its international staff from the country after three workers were killed by a bomb in February.

Attacks against Somalia's weak government and its Ethiopian military backers have increased in the last six months. Somalia's government has not been functional since civil war began in 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and rival warlords then turned on each other.

Over one million citizens in Somalia depend on foreign aid, and UN aid helps millions of Somalians each year.


  Learn more about Jubbada Hoose and Food and Agriculture Organization on Wikipedia.