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Gunmen kidnap UN staff in south of Yemen

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SANA’A: Five staff members of the United Nations (UN) have been kidnapped in southern Yemen while returning to Aden after a field mission.

The staff were abducted on Friday in Abyan governorate, Russell Geekie, a spokesperson for the top UN official in Yemen. “The UN is in close contact with the authorities to secure their release,” Geekie said on Sunday.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which is based in south Yemen, was working to safely free the UN staff abducted by unknown gunmen, the official news agency on Saturday cited a cabinet statement as saying.

An official at the UN office in Aden told western media that four of those seized were Yemeni nationals.

“The United Nations is in close contact with the authorities to secure their release,” Geekie said on Saturday.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to answer questions on the matter at a press conference, saying “we are aware of this case but, for obvious reasons, we are not commenting”.

The secessionist Southern Transitional Council, which controls much of Yemen’s south and is at odds with the Yemeni government, condemned the abductions as a “terrorist operation”, according to western media.

Abductions are frequent in Yemen, where armed tribesmen and al-Qaeda-linked armed fighters take hostages to swap for prisoners or cash.

Yemen has been mired in violence since the Iran-aligned Houthi movement overthrew the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to intervene months later.

Among Yemen’s many factions, al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) armed group have, in the past, carried out attacks including in the south, which last year saw protests over deteriorating economic conditions.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of Yemen’s population reliant on aid.

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