Two Italian hostages freed in Somalia
Somali kidnappers freed two Italian aid workers who had been held hostage in the chaotic Horn of Africa country since May, local sources and the Italian government said yesterday.
One Somali elder involved in the negotiations said a ransom of between $700,000 and $1 million was paid before the pair left for Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya.
In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the two former hostages were in good health. Jolanda Occhipinti and Giuliano Paganini were abducted on May 21 when Somali gunmen stormed the offices of the Rome-based group, Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud (CINS).
Mohamed Hussein, a worker at Mogadishu's international airport, said he saw the Italian man and woman arrive yesterday.
"They were brought in a car with masked faces wearing dirty clothes which looked like they hadn't been washed since they were abducted three months ago," Mr Hussein said.
Suspicion for kidnappings in Somalia generally falls on clan militia and Islamist insurgents who are fighting the interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.
Gunmen are still holding hostage two other foreign aid workers - a Kenyan and a Briton - and several other Somali humanitarian staff abducted earlier this year.
The kidnappings and attacks are hampering the work of aid agencies at a time when UN officials say Somalia ranks as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises along with Sudan's Darfur region, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan. More than one million of Somalia's nine million people scrape a living as internal refugees, and their plight has been worsened by record food prices, hyper-inflation and drought.
The insurgency has killed more than 8,000 civilians since the start of last year, according to a local human rights group.