Somalia gang demands ransom for aid workers

By Abdiqani Hassan

BOSASSO, Somalia, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A gang in Somalia has demanded a ransom for two foreign aid workers who were kidnapped this week, the president of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region said on Sunday.

Addi Muse said he had assurances the foreigners were safe, but would not give in to the demand for money.

Gunmen snatched Spanish doctor Mercedes Garcia and Argentine nurse Pilar Bouza, who work for the medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), on Wednesday as they made their way to a local hospital.

"We have communicated with the kidnappers. They told us the hostages are fine and they demanded a ransom," Muse told reporters. "I do not want to reveal how much, but in any case they will get no ransom," he said.

Somali troops had surrounded the kidnappers and exchanged fire with them shortly after the aid workers were seized. They captured two, but the others escaped with their female captives into the hills south of Bosasso.

Muse said Somali security forces were interrogating the members they had arrested to get information.

They had revealed that the abductors were ex-members of an organised ring that had seized French journalist Gwen Le Gouil this month. He was released on Monday after eight days in captivity.

The gang had apparently fallen out over how to split his ransom, which Muse said was around $100,000.

"We heard they had a disagreement between them over the money so some left and went out and found a new target."

Somali kidnappers almost never mistreat or kill hostages, viewing them as an investment that could earn a handsome payout.

Puntland officials have repeatedly said they do not want a ransom paid for the aid workers because that see it as encouraging what is already a thriving criminal business.

Despite its relative stability compared with the rest of Somalia, Puntland has become a hub for hijackings and piracy.

Foreigners in Somalia often run foul of clan-based warlords by failing to seek permission to cross their territories.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)


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