Four UN staff members abducted by unknown armed men on 16 March in Wajid town, 340km northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, have been released unharmed some hours later, the UN confirmed.
The four were released late Monday night, according to a statement issued by the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
The foreign staff members, one from UN World Food Programme (WFP), two from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and a Somali national, were abducted from a convoy travelling to the local airfield.
“I am very enormously relieved that our staff are free and safe,” Mark Bowden, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said in the statement. “The United Nations is very grateful for the efforts and intervention of the local authorities who used their influence and reach to ensure our dedicated staff were cared for and ultimately released safely and quickly.”
He added: “This is an important affirmation that the UN presence and its activities in Bakool and the surrounding areas are accepted and protected by the local communities and leaders.”
The four were reportedly taken by a clan militia, according to a local journalist, who requested anonymity.
“The militia was angry that members of their clan were not employed as guards; it was about resources, nothing else,” the journalist said.
He said it took the intervention of elders and Mukhtar Roobow, spokesman for Al-Shabab – which controls much of southern Somalia – to secure their release.
“The quick and positive resolution of this incident will ensure the aid operation can go on unhindered,” Bowden said. “Wajid has been a longstanding aid hub serving relief activities in Somalia.”
Some 3.2 million Somalis, almost half the population, are reliant on humanitarian aid, according to the UN. One in every seven children is malnourished and the vast majority of those needing aid are in the south-central regions of Somalia.