Somali intelligence forces seize WFP aid official

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MOGADISHU, Oct 17 (Reuters) Up to 60 Somali intelligence officers stormed a U N compound in Mogadishu today and seized the World Food Programme's local chief of operations at gunpoint.

Riding in two technicals -- Somalia's version of tanks -- armed security officers forced their way into U N offices before taking the Somali head of WFP operations in Mogadishu to intelligence headquarters where he was being held in a cell.

WFP said it was unclear why Idris Osman had been taken away, and called for his immediate release.

''WFP has not received any explanation for this action, which violates international law,'' the agency said in a statement.

WFP said it was forced to suspend food distribution, which started on Monday, to more than 75,000 people in the capital -- WFP's first distribution of food there since late June.

''In the light of Mr Osman's detention and in view of WFP's duty to safeguard its staff, WFP is forced immediately to suspend these distributions,'' it said.

A police spokesman confirmed Osman's detention, but declined to say why he had been taken.

Violence has forced many aid agencies to quit the Horn of Africa country, leaving U.N. agencies and a few others to run limited operations staffed by locals.

In the latest killings in Mogadishu, where Islamist insurgents are fighting joint Ethiopian-Somali forces, five people were killed in a protracted gunbattle with rebels at a police station late yesterday.

Two others, including a district official, died of injuries sustained when a roadside bomb was detonated in the coastal city early today.

Many Somalis condemn the government -- the nation's 14th attempt at central rule since 1991 -- for failing to end insecurity, improve health and education, and bring peace.

Rampant piracy, closed borders and the authorities' previous failure to clear food shipments for distribution have hobbled efforts to provide aid to thousands of people who have fled the escalating conflict.

In April, the interim government promised it would clear obstacles to delivering aid after the U N's humanitarian chief complained about red tape and restrictions.

Those include numerous checkpoints where aid workers complained of theft or obstruction, a longstanding practice of Somali gunmen in the 16 years of anarchy since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Meanwhile, in northern Somalia, officials from the semi-autonomous Puntland region said 1,800 soldiers and volunteers had arrived in its capital today.

Puntland's president has vowed to take back the disputed village of Las Anod, which the breakaway republic of Somaliland claims for its own and captured during a battle today.

Somaliland has warned that any counter-attack will be met with further incursion into Puntland. Its troops are about 45 km from the administrative capital Garowe.

Reuters PD RN1823

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