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Four UN Employees Abducted in Somalia

The United Nations has confirmed that four of its workers were abducted early Monday in Waajid, in south-central Somalia. According to the U.N., the workers include three foreigners and one Somali.

U.N. spokesperson Dawn Blalock said the staff members were traveling to the airport when they were hijacked.

"While there were armed men, there was no violence or shooting reported to have occurred during the incident. At the moment we know the general location of the staff members but we are not in contact with the abductors themselves. Our main priority right now is to work with the local authorities in Wajid to secure the unconditional release of the staff," she said.

Reports from the region have suggested the staff members worked for the World Food Program and the U.N. Development Program. There was no immediate word on the nationalities of the three foreign workers.

While the United Nations has not identified the gunmen, some local media reports from Somalia said the attackers were members of the Islamist al-Shabab militia, which controls much of southern and central Somalia.

Kidnapping of aid workers by bandits is also common in Somalia. In 2008, 26 aid workers were abducted, and 35 killed in the country. Abducted workers are often released in exchange for a ransom payment.

Somalia's new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and a former insurgent leader, is attempting to establish government control in the country and to gain the support of Islamist insurgents. Last week, his government announced plans to implement Islamic law in the country.

The move has been embraced by some insurgents, but rejected by the hard-line Shabab. In the past three days at least a dozen people have been killed in clashes between the Shabab and a Sufi Islam militia in central Somalia.

President Ahmed is also trying to rally support for his government overseas. He has been touring the East Africa region for the past week.