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Two Aid Workers Abducted in Somalia

Armed fighters in Somalia have kidnapped two foreigners working for a United Nations-backed project. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, the security and humanitarian situation in Somalia has continued to deteriorate in recent months with a growing number of attacks on aid workers.

The attackers opened fire on a car carrying the workers in the Middle Juba province of Somalia. The workers are believed to be a British and a Kenyan national.

A Somali humanitarian worker told Reuters news agency that the attackers were members of a clan-based militia and that the British worker was wounded in a gun battle between the attackers and bodyguards accompanying the car.

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks targeting humanitarian workers in recent months, with those responsible often difficult to determine. A group of 40 international aid organizations, including Oxfam and Save the Children issued a statement last week warning of the deteriorating situation in Somalia and calling for increased protection for humanitarian operations.

Over one million people have been displaced by fighting in what the U.N. has called Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's transitional government have been battling a growing Islamist-led insurgency since early 2007. The Ethiopian forces ousted the Islamic Courts Union from control of the capital Mogadishu in December 2006, but have failed to gain control.

The current insurgent groups include the radical Shabaab, recently named by the United States as a terrorist organization, and the more moderate Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia. The latter, based in Asmara, is led by the former head of the Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sheikh Sharif has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia as a precondition for ending the insurgency and holding peace talks. Sheikh Sharif's foreign policy advisor, Ibrahim Ahmed Adow, in Nairobi for meetings with the U.N., told VOA in an exclusive interview that the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia is in favor of negotiating directly with Ethiopia on withdrawing the troops, rather than through the transitional federal government.

"There is no authority other than Ethiopia right now which is occupying Somalia illegally," he said. "Ethiopia has to withdraw unconditionally and immediately. Therefore, we must negotiate with the real occupiers and the international community and not individuals that have no authority at all."

Opposition to the clan-based transitional government has grown steadily in Somalia, but the body continues to receive international backing, particularly from the United States. In an interview with VOA on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger reiterated America's support for the body as the "legitimately-selected government" of Somalia, praising its willingness to engage in reconciliation efforts.

But in a report released on Monday, the U.S.-based advocacy organization Refugees International warned that the Transitional Federal Government lacks legitimacy among the Somali population.

The report cautioned that U.S support for the transitional government and the Ethiopian troops backing it and the failure to condemn the human rights abuses conducted by these groups has increased anti-American sentiment in Somalia.

The report also says the U.S. policy of launching military strikes at suspected terrorist targets in Somalia, which has resulted in the deaths of several civilians, is also increasing resentment towards the United States.