16 March 2009The four United Nations staff members who were abducted earlier today by unknown armed men in south central Somalia have now been released, the world body has confirmed. They were all released safely to UN security today at 22:10, local time, a UN spokesperson said.After they were released, the UN confirmed that the staff members are Ali Dekow of Somalia and Marc Andre Post of France, both of whom work for the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as UN Volunteer Paul Bampo of Ghana and Miragha Babayev of Azerbaijan, who both work with the UN Development Programme (UNDP).“The United Nations is very grateful for the efforts and intervention of the local authorities who used their influence and reach to ensure our dedicated staff was cared for and ultimately released safely and quickly,” stated UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Bowden.“This is an important affirmation that the UN presence and its activities in the surrounding areas is accepted and protected by the local communities and leaders,” he added.The staff members were on their way to the airport when their convoy was stopped by gunmen, according to a statement issued by the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.No violence or shooting was reported to have occurred during the abduction, which took place in Waajid in south central Somalia. “The quick and positive resolution of this incident will ensure the aid operation can go on unhindered,” stated Mr. Bowden. “Waajid has been a longstanding and important aid hub serving relief activities in Somalia.” Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991, has been plagued by fighting and humanitarian suffering for decades. Continuing instability, coupled with drought, high food prices and the collapse of the local currency have only worsened the dire humanitarian situation in recent months.The UN estimates that some 3.2 million people, or 40 per cent of the population, are in need of assistance. At the same time, there have been several encouraging developments in recent weeks for the country, including the election of a new President and the creation of an enlarged Parliament.