By Abdiqani Hassan
BOSSASSO, May 11 (Reuters) - Two aid workers kidnapped by gunmen in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region are in good health and their abductors are negotiating with local elders to free them, a source close to the captors said on Friday.
The source, who did not want to be named, said the Briton and Kenyan were being held near where they were seized on Wednesday, some 75 miles (120 km) south of Puntland's main port Bossasso. They worked for the CARE International relief agency.
"The hostages are fine and healthy. We have provided them with water and food, they have no problem," the source told Reuters by telephone. "Our clan elders have communicated with us and we have started dialogue with them. They have told the governor of Bari province to wait for word from them."
He gave no other details about the pair. The Briton is from Northern Ireland. One maritime official says they may have been taken hostage by local fishermen for use as a "bargaining chip" in a dispute with the authorities over fishing permits.
Meanwhile, a senior U.N. official in Mogadishu for talks with the interim government said he would travel to Puntland in the north to appeal in person for the release of the hostages.
"They have to release them unconditionally," Francois Fall, the U.N. special envoy for Somalia, told reporters.
Puntland runs itself independently from the rest of Somalia and has been relatively more peaceful in recent years.
But the whole Somali region has a history of abductions and assassinations of local and foreign aid workers, particularly in the self-declared independent enclave of Somaliland. Authorities generally blame militant Islamists for attacks on foreigners.
(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Mogadishu)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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