|AU peacekeepers have helped protect parts of the capital Mogadishu as Somalia is gripped by violence [Reuters]
Heavily armed men have abducted a British-Zimbabwean working as a security consultant for the British non-government organisation Save the Children in Somalia, and a Somali colleague, officials and witnesses say.
The two men were taken on Thursday evening in Adado, a town in central Somalia, and the abductors set off in two vehicles towards Hobyo, a port used by pirates on the Indian Ocean coast, witnesses said.
The security guards at Save the Children put up no resistance and no shots were exchanged.
Mohamed Adan Tiey, Adado's district commissioner, confirmed the incident and said "we are still investigating". The British foreign office said it was also investigating the reports of the abduction.
Save the Children, which was doing a feasibility study ahead of the possible launch a new humanitarian programme in the area, refused to identify the workers.
"We are extremely concerned about the welfare of those being held and urgently call upon whoever is holding them captive to release them unconditionally," a statement said.
The Reuters news agency later reported that the family of the abducted Somali man, named as Bashir Yusuf, said he had been released.
"Bashir confirmed to us he had been released. He told us he was on his way into town and that the armed men went with his foreign colleague," Abdukadir Hassan, a family member, was quoted as saying.
The abduction of foreigners and aid workers is rampant in Somalia, a Horn of African country ravaged by conflict since 1991 when Siad Barre, the then-president, was ousted.
A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, have been held hostage for almost a year after their yacht was captured in the Indian Ocean, off the Seychelles.
The abduction came a day after Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president, named a US-educated former diplomat as prime minister. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed pledged to make security his priority as he took over the office.
'Security top priority'
Mohamed, 49, is to replace Omar Abdirashid Sharmake who resigned last month, paying the price for the government's failure to defeat an insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of civilians since the start of 2007.
"My first priority is security, and performing my duties for the Somali people," Mohamed told the Reuters news agency.
"We have to deal with the insurgents who are behind the meaningless bloodshed in Somalia, either by fighting them or by reconciling with them, if they are ready for that."
Afyare Abdi Elmi, a political science professor at Qatar University, said he hoped Mohamed's background in the Somali diaspora and his relatively young age would help re-energise the government by offering a fresh perspective.
"I hope he will form a small and effective cabinet," Elmi told Reuters by telephone. "He stands a very good chance to have a positive impact. He is not carrying any political baggage."
Parliament has yet to approve the appointment, but analysts said it would probably be a formality as the president would have consulted legislators before naming him.
Mohamed faces the task of presiding over a fragile transitional government that is hemmed into a small part of Mogadishu, the capital, and is riddled with infighting and corruption.
Al Qaeda-inspired al-Shabab fighters and the smaller Hizb-ul Islam rebel group control much of the capital and large parts of southern and central Somalia. It was not immediately clear whether al-Shabab was behind the kidnapping.
"We still don't know who attacked the two. Some people say they are pirates and others say they are Islamists," Mohamed Awale, a local official, said.
A number of armed groups have been fighting for three years to overthrow Somalia's fragile interim government, which they say is a puppet of the West. More than 7,200 African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi to support the government and key sites in Mogadishu.