Aid Agencies Halt Most Work in Somali Capital Until Kidnapers Free Frenchman

From Reuters

Nearly a dozen aid agencies suspended non-emergency operations indefinitely in the Somali capital Thursday after kidnapers failed to free a French aid worker held for four weeks.

The non-governmental organizations, hanging on in this lawless city devastated by clan warfare, said they closed their doors at sundown until 24-year-old Rudy Marq is freed.

"We are putting a sign on the door saying we accept no new projects and are stopping all work that does not involve a life-or-death situation," said Nancy Smith, Somalia representative for Oxfam U.K. and Ireland.

In a major blow to relief operations, U.N. agencies decided to evacuate all international staff from the central town of Baidoa after the killing Tuesday of a Somali driver working for the U.N. Children's Fund.

The U.N. mission in Somalia is also asking international aid agencies to leave Baidoa, spokesman George Bennet said. Aid workers returned to Baidoa only a few weeks ago after U.N. troops pulled out.

Smith of Oxfam said the Baidoa evacuation was a big blow to efforts to aid Somalia, but she said she hoped that the action by the aid agencies in Mogadishu will win Marq's freedom.

"We are drawing a clear line at this very sensitive time that Mogadishu has to be a secure and stable environment if international aid is going to continue," she said.

"Rudy Marq must be freed by his kidnapers, and I am very optimistic this action will work and there will be no necessity for further measures," she said.

Marq, a logistics officer with International Action Against Hunger, was seized on the Mogadishu airport road Dec. 17 by gunmen demanding a ransom.

His chief kidnaper has demanded up to $52,000 in payment for a vehicle stolen and a son killed in an attack eight months ago. International Action Against Hunger denies involvement with the vehicle and the dead security guard.

This was the first time aid agencies in Somalia have taken concerted strike action to end a kidnaping. Several aid workers were abducted last year but were freed unharmed.

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