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Libyan diplomats briefly abducted in Mogadishu
A Somali woman walks past derelict buildings in Mogadishu
Mogadishu, Somalia, 5 January 2008 - Two Libyan diplomats were captured by Somali gunmen in the restive capital Mogadishu Saturday and released hours later, a witness and one of their colleagues told AFP.
"Libyan charge d'affaires Neji Gsuda and another diplomat, Fethi Abu Daya, were abducted near the Bakara market by armed and masked men," a Libyan official had told AFP in Tripoli.
"The two diplomats had gone out for shopping when they were snatched," a Libyan diplomat had also told AFP. "Their driver returned and said that men armed with pistols kidnapped them."
The two diplomats were snatched in the Bakara area, where Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops hunt down Islamist insurgents almost daily.
Hours later, the two men were released, according to a Libyan diplomat and a witness.
"The Libyans were released by the people who abducted them early this morning. They are safe at K-5, which is where they have their residence," said Bashir Mohamed, a businessman and neighbour of the two diplomats.
"They are safe and they are in their office. They have been released by their kidnappers with no conditions. No ransom was paid and there was no other condition," an embassy official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The Libyan authorities had summoned the Somali ambassador in Tripoli in an effort to learn more about the abduction.
"We do not know the identity of the kidnappers or their demands, but we will do everything possible to seek the release of our diplomats," the same Libyan official had said in Tripoli before the release.
Libya and Sudan are the only countries to have kept an intermittent diplomatic presence in Somalia throughout the civil strife that has plagued the nation since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The motive for the abduction was not immediately clear, but Somali gunmen have in the past demanded huge ransoms to free hostages.
Saturday's abduction was the latest in a surge of seizures of foreigners in the troubled Horn of Africa state.
On Wednesday, gunmen freed a Spanish doctor and an Argentinian nurse after one week in captivity in Somalia's breakaway republic of Puntland.
Local media reported that their captors had demanded a 250,000-euro (365,000 -dollar) ransom, but the Spanish foreign ministry insisted no money was paid.
Last month, a French cameraman who was in Puntland to film a documentary on the smuggling of refugees from Somalia and other chaotic Horn of Africa nations across the Gulf of Aden was also freed after being held for more than a week.
Puntland's semi-autonomous government has encouraged foreigners to coordinate their movements in the lawless region with local officials in an effort to ensure their security.
Insecurity in Mogadishu has worsened since early 2007 when the Ethiopian army backed Somali government forces to topple an Islamist movement, sparking daily street fighting that has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
In May last year, Ethiopia became the second country to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Mogadishu after the ouster of the Islamists. Yemen opened its embassy there a year ago.
Kenya and China also have permanent representations, but most other countries have posted their ambassadors in Nairobi due to security concerns.
Somalia, a nation of 10 million people, has lacked a functional central authority for the past 16 years and the cycles of bloodletting have defied numerous peace endeavours.