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Family pleads for kidnapped Kenyans

MOMBASA, May 21 – The family of one of the three Kenyans being held hostage by pirates off the Coast of Somalia has appealed to the Government to intervene and see to it that they are released.

Armed Somali pirates stormed MV Victoria as it transited near the Somali Coastline on May 17 and took hostage the crew of the ship that was carrying humanitarian aid cargo.

Speaking in Mombasa on Wednesday, relatives of Juma Mchoro, an oiler (engine room worker) called for quick intervention to rescue those hijacked.

“Our elder brother has been taken hostage. It is the second time he has been held hostage in Somalia waters. He was aboard MV Bahari Kenya in 1998 when it came under pirate attacks and was held in captivity for four months,” Mchoro’s brother Rama Juma said.

Juma narrated that his hijacked brother left Mombasa for India in early January and was expected back home last week.

Seafarers Assistance Programme Kenya coordinator, Andrew Mwangura, said Wednesday that apart from Mchoro, the other two Kenyans taken hostage this year have been identified as Vincent Onyango and Abdalla Omar Ali.

Two Tanzanians, Hafidh Hassan and Mohamed Abubakar, and a Jordanian ship chief engineer are also among the hostages.

The other crew members taken hostage are Indians (10), Pakistanis (2), Bangladeshis (3) and two Myanmar nationals.

Mwangura said the hijackers have not made any demands and could be heading out of the Morgane area, after local Islamic leaders threatened to storm the vessel if it anchored.
Piracy is rampant along the Somali Coastal line and near key shipping routes that connect the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.
The ship, coming from Mumbai in India, was carrying 4,200 tonnes of sugar donated by Denmark to war-torn Somalia when it was seized on an early Saturday morning, 40 nautical miles off Mogadishu.

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The hijacking of MV Victoria is the third such incident to be reported off the Somalia coast in the last five months.

Meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped three aid workers, two Italians and a Somali — in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region on Wednesday, the latest in a string of attacks against humanitarian groups, officials told AFP.

"Three aid workers, among them two Italians, a man and a woman, were kidnapped early this morning by armed men who blindfolded them and took them away," local elder Mohamed Ibrahim Ali told AFP.

A local security official confirmed the kidnapping and said the security forces were trying to locate the hostages.

"We are currently investigating who kidnapped them and where they were taken," Ali Mohamed Gele told AFP.

But their employer, aid organisation Cooperazione Italiana Nord-Sud (CINS), or North-South Italian Cooperation, said in Rome it had made contact with the kidnappers, adding that they were well.

"We have made contact. We can say that they are well and they have not suffered any violence," a spokesman said. "That is all we can say for now."

The kidnapping took place at around 6:30 a.m. (0330 GMT) in the village of Awdhegle, 70 kilometres south of the capital Mogadishu.

The elder said the non-Italian hostage was Abderahman Yusuf Arale, the local head of the Italian aid group.

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Also in Rome, a foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the kidnapping of the two Italians.

"We are in contact with their families and we are following the situation with much attention," the spokesman said.

Somali security officials in the region where the kidnapping took place said that CINS staff had already come under attack at a checkpoint on May 2.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that three people had died in the exchange of fire — one attacker, one member of the CINS escort and one member of the Somali security services — although they could not certify that the Italians were targeted.

Aid workers, including foreigners, have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups in Somalia in recent months.

The spate of kidnappings and killings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in the Horn of Africa country, where the UN says one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes is unfolding.

On May 13, gunmen abducted a Kenyan teaching at Mogadishu University.

Kidnappers are also holding two aid workers, a Kenyan and a Briton, seized in April in southern Somalia, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

In early May, gunmen killed a truck driver working for the World Food Programme in central Somalia.

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The United Nations and aid groups have scaled down operations in Somalia owing to increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a deadly guerrilla war since they were ousted by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

Amnesty International has pleaded with the militants to end the kidnapping and killing of foreign workers in Somalia — a nation where 2.6 million Somalis, including a million displaced people, require help to feed themselves.

On Monday, the UN’s food agency warned that Somalia could plunge into an acute humanitarian crisis if the unrest, drought, soaring prices and the weak currency escalate.

Earlier this month, Islamist rebels pledged to kill foreigners and pro-government supporters after US airstrikes killed their leader Aden Hashi Ayro, who was accused of being the Al-Qaeda leader in the country.

The United Nations is currently trying to build trust between the government and moderate Islamists at talks that were launched on May 12 in Djibouti.

The political foes last week issued a rare joint statement urging their supporters to facilitate humanitarian access and the delivery of aid.

Somalia has been shattered by deadly conflicts which have claimed up to half a million lives since 1991, when then President Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled.

Clashes continue, especially in the capital Mogadishu.

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