Japanese, Dutch aid workers released in Somalia

TOKYO, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Two aid workers from Japan and the Netherlands, kidnapped by Somali gunmen on the Ethiopian border last year, have been released, Japan's foreign ministry and aid organisation Medecins du Monde said on Thursday.

A female Japanese doctor, Keiko Akahane, and a male aid worker from the Netherlands, Willem Sools, were abducted in September 2008 from Ethiopia's remote eastern Ogaden region, which borders war-torn Somalia. [ID:nL7462001]

Their release comes as around 3,000 Ethiopian troops backing up Somalia's weak transitional government withdraw, prompting clashes among factions seeking control of the country in the Horn of Africa. [ID:nL3426330]

The two were moved to a safe location after their release on Wednesday, Medecins du Monde said in a statement.

"We criticise the kidnapping, which is a despicable criminal act, and we re-emphasise that such an act cannot be justified for any reason," Japan's foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone said in a statement.

Akahane is unharmed, an official at Japan's foreign ministry said, but he did not know the status of the Dutchman. He could not comment on whether a ransom was paid.

Kidnapping of foreigners is common in Somalia, where violence and chaos prevails as a weak interim government fights Islamist insurgents and clan militia who control large areas.

Most abducted are freed unharmed, although a worker for the World Food Programme was shot dead at a school in Somalia this week. [ID:nL617207] (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Rodney Joyce)