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Ogaden rebel UWSLF to release abducted aid workers

Sept 22, 2006 (MOGADISHU) — An ethnic Somali separatist rebel group claimed Friday to have abducted an Irish Red Cross worker and an Ethiopian colleague in eastern Ethiopia this week but said they would be freed.

In a statement released here, the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) said it had taken the pair on Monday after mistaking them for foreign oil workers and that they would be released within 48 hours.

The men’s employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), could not confirm the UWSLF claim or pledge to release the abductees, Irishman Donal O’Suilleabhain and Hadiis Ahmed Samatar, an ethnic Somali Ethiopian.

“We are declaring that we have captured two employees of the ICRC — one of them Irish, the other (ethnic) Somali — on September 18, 2006,” it said, identifying O’Suilleabhain by his first name and Samatar by his full name.

“We suspected that the two men were working for petroleum companies that were awarded contracts by Ethiopia to explore for oil and natural gas,” it said, adding that the two were in good health.

“After serious investigations, the organisation realised the two were working for the ICRC and we realised they have nothing to do with the exploration of oil on our land,” it said.

“From now on, these people are free and we are hopeful they will reach their offices within 48 hours peacefully,” said the statement signed by UWSLF spokesperson, Abdullahi Osman Gashan.

The group, which claims to be fighting for the rights of ethnic Somalis in western Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, also warned foreign energy firms from operating in the vast Somali region that straddles the two nations. “Any organisation that attempts to explore for oil without permission from the people on the ground will be responsible all the risks involved,” it said.

There was no way to independently confirm the claim of responsibility although ICRC in Addis Ababa said the names of the abductees given by the group were correct.

“I can confirm neither the identity of the group that is claiming the kidnapping nor that the two are in good health and will be released within 48 hours,” said Patrick Megevand, the spokesman for the ICRC in Ethiopia.

“But we can confirm that those are the names of the people taken,” he said. “We hope that this communiqué is true and they will be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The pair were kidnapped at gunpoint on Monday by an armed group north of the town of Gode in the Somali region, about 1,100 kilometers (685 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa.

On Thursday, the Irish Red Cross said contact had been made with O’Suilleabhain, 41, a water and sanitation engineer, but there was no sign of his immediate release.

Ethiopian authorities had suggested the abduction might have been the work of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), another rebel group active in the area that has also warned foreign oil companies from working there.

But the pr- ONLO, Oganden Online denied in an editorial posted yesterday the kidnapping of the aid workesr. The editorial praised the action of the ICRC in Ogaden. “It is a fact that whoever kidnapped these ICRC employees intended to hurt the Ogaden populace”. Said Ogaden Online.


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