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An August 2011 photo of part of the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam/PA Images

Vehicle found during search for Spanish aid workers

The MSF employees were kidnapped from the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya by gunmen believed to be part of Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group.

Updated 3.30pm

A VEHICLE HAS been found during the search for two Spanish women working with the aid agency Medécins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

They were abducted from a refugee camp in Kenya by gunmen believed to be part of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

A third person, the aid workers’ Kenyan driver, was injured during the abduction. He has been hospitalised and is understood to be in stable condition.

Kenyan security forces hunting for Somali gunmen and the kidnapped aid workers found their vehicle abandoned and mired in the desert as aid agencies scaled back relief operations in the world’s biggest refugee camp Friday in response to the abduction there.

Kenya has deployed troops and six helicopters to try to rescue the pair, who apparently have been forced to continue on foot with their captors. They had been headed toward Somalia.

The UN temporarily suspended all non-lifesaving aid operations in the Dadaab refugee camp following yesterday’s kidnapping of the two workers from MSF, a spokeswoman said.

Hundreds of staff are confined to their offices, forcing the cancellation of services like education, counseling and relocation of families until further notice.

“Only water, food and health services are being maintained,” said UN refugee agency spokeswoman Needa Jehu-Hoyah. “This will of course have an impact on the poor refugees.”

MSF Spain president José Antonio Bastos said in a statement that the organisation strongly condemns the attack – the third kidnapping of Europeans in Kenya in the past six weeks - and has set up a crisis team to deal with the incident.

“MSF is in contact with all the relevant authorities and is doing all it can to ensure the swift and safe return of our colleagues. Meanwhile, our thoughts are with them and with their families in this difficult time,” he said.

Regional police chief Leo Nyongesa said the attackers fled towards Somalia with the two women and that police are tracking the group by road and by air.

The hijacked vehicle got stuck about 30 kilometres from the Somali border because of rain and bad terrain, said a police official in a position to know but who could not be identified because of agency rules.

Police suspect the gunmen may have then forced the women to walk on foot, the official said.

He also said that the border has been closed, but the Kenya-Somali border is known for being poorly-patrolled and militia fighters and Kenyan soldiers have had little difficulty in crossing over and back.

The Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in the world, holding around 500,000 Somalis who have fled famine and fighting at home.

Al-Shabab’s threats against foreign aid agencies and staff have forced organisations to withdraw their international staff in recent years. The militant group recently renewed its threats against the workers when agencies appealed for safe passage while providing aid during the ongoing food crisis.

Goal’s John O’Shea called on the UN to provide protection for aid workers, and the Somali government recently banned foreign aid workers from delivering aid in areas controlled by the militants due to the high threat of kidnapping.

- Additional reporting by the AP

Column: Inside Somalia: How violence is trapping the starving >

Read: All sides to blame in Somali disaster, says human rights group >

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