NAIROBI, Kenya — Gunmen attacked a group of international relief workers and their guards in Somalia's capital Friday, and U.N. troops aboard armored personnel carriers came to the rescue, aid officials said.
No one was seriously hurt in the attack in Mogadishu, but it underscored the danger aid workers face in Somalia, plagued by drought and roving bandits who steal food shipments and sell them on the black market. It marked the first time U.N. forces had rescued aid workers in Somalia.
An attack on a convoy to the famine-stricken town of Baidoa earlier this week left as many as 40 people dead. But relief officials said Friday the convoys to Baidoa will continue.
In Mogadishu, gunmen forced 18 international aid workers in three cars to stop in an attempt to steal their vehicles, said Rhodri Wynn-Pope, a CARE International official who spoke by telephone from Somalia.
Most of the aid workers and their guards got out of the cars and the drivers sped away, Wynn-Pope said. While running from the bandits, Wynn-Pope said, one aid worker called for help on his walkie-talkie.
Eventually, about 70 U.N. soldiers from a Pakistani battalion were marshaled at the international airport, and a rescue mission set out with seven armored personnel carriers as night fell, Wynn-Pope said.
He and another CARE official directed the force to the stranded relief workers.
The U.N. troops never had to fire their guns, he said. Three of the international workers crept from their hiding places and were picked up by the rescue force, and the others made their way alone to a U.N. building.
Also Friday, the U.N. troops at the Mogadishu airport came under fire from troops of Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, but no one was hurt, said a source at the United Nations in New York.
The rescued aid workers belonged to two French organizations--International Action Against Hunger and Medecins sans Frontieres--and a mostly American group, the International Medical Corps.
Despite the attack Wednesday on a food convoy to Baidoa, CARE will continue sending food convoys to the town where as many as 300 people die each day of starvation and related sickness, said CARE spokesman Rick Grant.
Eighteen Somalis aboard six trucks hijacked during the attack are still missing, he said.
The United Nations has authorized 3,500 soldiers to guard food coming into the country's major ports and airfields, but only 500 have arrived and less than half of those have been deployed.
The new U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ismat Kittani of Iraq, arrived in the country Sunday. Officials have said his first task will be to win agreement from Somalia's rival warlords to deploy the full U.N. troop contingent.