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Another kidnapping

Nothing must hamper the government's efforts to rescue the four captured Spanish aid workers

Two Spanish aid workers, and another from Italy, were kidnapped last Saturday in Tindouf, Algeria, where they had been assisting Sahrawi refugees. The neighboring Western Sahara (Sahrawi) territory, once a Spanish possession, is occupied by Morocco, but an independence movement called the Polisario Front waged a war against the Moroccans until, in the late 1980s, they were driven across the border into Algeria, which supports them. Since that time, tens of thousands of Sahrawis have lived in several camps on the Algerian side of the border near the town of Tindouf.

A group of armed men got past the Polisario's security surveillance, and reached the cabins housing the international aid workers, capturing Ainhoa Fernández and Enric Gonyalons, as well as the Italian Rosella Urra, before fleeing in the direction of Mauritania or Mali. The Polisario blames the kidnapping on the Maghrebi branch of Al Qaeda, while the Algerian and Spanish governments have been more cautious about pointing to any particular group.

This new abduction comes after that of two Spanish aid workers in Kenya, while persons of other nationalities have also been the objects of similar attacks in recent months, confirming the growing lack of security that reigns in the continent. The situation demands that the Spanish government and the various humanitarian agencies, as well as European and multilateral organizations, address the adoption of new security measures as soon as possible, without excluding the possibility of an eventual withdrawal of aid workers if satisfactory solutions are not found. The kidnappings place aid agencies and organizations in a difficult corner. Withdrawal of the aid workers would constitute a punishment for the people who need aid, but their maintenance without adequate security might offer encouragement to the groups that threaten these same populations.

The Polisario Front has taken the Tindouf kidnapping as an affront, not only because it challenges the organization's control of the refugee camps, but also because, depending on who the perpetrators finally turn out to be, it might become a trump card in the hand of the Moroccan government, which accuses the Polisario of being infiltrated by, or in connivance with, jihadist groups. This quarrel must not influence the most immediate objective, which is to bring back all the hostages safe and sound. Nor must it influence the medium-term objective, which is to stop the deterioration of security that has been taking place throughout the region. Whether terrorists or mere criminals, the perpetrators of the recent kidnappings will find the field more propitious for their activities if the various governments, as well as the Polisario Front, exacerbate their differences due to cases such as that of Tindouf.

Turning to the domestic Spanish aspect, both government and opposition are giving signs of how previous hostage situations make prudence advisable. The approach of the November 20 elections must not influence the work that is going on, nor that which remains to be done. Four Spanish citizens, as well as persons of other nationalities, are now at the mercy of bands of unscrupulous kidnappers. Nothing must hamper the government's efforts to bring them back home.

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