March 3, 2006

Somali gunmen free kidnapped American U.N. worker

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Gunmen have freed an American working
for the United Nations who was kidnapped in southern Somalia
over a business dispute, the Somali government said.

Robert McCarthy, 47, who works for the U.N.'s children's
agency (UNICEF), was released on Thursday to the custody of
U.N. security officers and members of Somalia's interim
government, the United Nations and the government said.

He had been abducted the day before on the outskirts of
Afmadow, 110 km (68 miles) northwest of the southern port of

Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said that a
local businessman, Hassan Amba Olow, had ordered the kidnapping
because UNICEF owed him money.

Government officials flew from Baidoa, where the Somali
parliament is meeting, to intervene, he said.

"The officials promised to pay the man his money if UNICEF
fails. That's why he released the hostage," Dinari told Reuters
by phone from Baidoa.

The local district chairman in Afmadow, Haji Mahamud Abdi,
said UNICEF owed the businessman $19,500, but he had no details
on the contract involved.

U.N. spokeswoman Sandra Macharia declined to comment when
asked about the business dispute.

"We are very relieved that Mr. McCarthy has been released
unharmed and thank the transitional federal government for
demonstrating leadership in this critical time," UNICEF
Executive Director Ann Veneman said in a statement released
late on Thursday.

Kidnapping foreign workers has become a lucrative business
for many militias and warlords in the lawless Horn of Africa
nation. They are also often used to settle business disputes.

Many aid organizations have chosen to work through local
agencies or staff due to tremendous risks involved in
delivering aid in the country of 10 million people.