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Independent Aid Worker Gunned Down in Somaliland - 2003-10-06

International aid workers in East Africa are expressing shock and grief over the killing of a veteran, award-winning aid worker Sunday in the self-declared republic of Somaliland. Regional aid workers describe the loss of the Italian aid worker, Annalena Tonelli, as devastating.

The 60-year-old veteran was gunned down by unknown assailants late Sunday in the Somaliland town of Borama. She had been living in Borama for the past six years, serving as a medical assistant at a hospital that specializes in the treatment of tuberculosis.

Friends and colleagues describe Ms. Tonelli as a tireless fighter, who had spent more than three decades as an independent aid worker helping Somali refugees in Kenya and Somalia.

The Nairobi-based spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, Kitty McKinsey, called Ms. Tonelli an inspiration to all who have met and worked with her.

"It does not matter if you met her for a very short time," remembered Ms. McKinsey. "You would be touched by her. She was very attached to the Somalis and she seemed to be quite well accepted by them, especially as she spoke the language fluently and she thought the needs were very great there and that's where she could help. I think her loss will be felt among the thousands and thousands of Somalis she had been helping."

Although Ms. Tonelli had never received formal medical training, Ms. McKinsey says she was singularly dedicated to providing better health care for all Somalis.

The slain aid worker set up outreach clinics in northern and southern Somalia to help patients suffering from tuberculosis. She also campaigned extensively among Somalis to raise awareness of AIDS and the harmful effects of female genital mutilation.

For her efforts, the United Nations presented Ms. Tonelli with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award earlier this year. The prize, which comes with $100,000 cash, is given annually to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves in refugee work.

On Monday, officials in Somaliland promised that they would conduct a thorough investigation to identify Ms. Tonelli's killers and bring them to justice.

Northern Somaliland, with its capital in Hargeisa, broke away from Somalia in 1991. But the international community has not officially recognized it as an independent country.