updated 10/20/2008 3:01:22 PM ET 2008-10-20T19:01:22

Gunmen killed a Somali engineer employed by the United Nations in the latest deadly attack against aid workers in the war-ravaged country, an official said Monday.

Three gunmen shot the engineer as he walked home from a mosque with friends on Sunday evening in the southern town of Hudur, said town resident Abdi Aden.

The U.N. Children's Fund, known as UNICEF, identified the dead man as Mukhtar Mohammed Hassan and said he played a vital role in providing vulnerable communities with clean water and sanitation.

"UNICEF condemns this senseless killing of a staff member who was dedicated to UNICEF's mission to improve the lives of Somali children and women," Hannan Sulieman, UNICEF's deputy representative, said in a statement.

Fourteen humanitarian workers have been killed in Somalia so far this year, including a U.N. employee shot three days ago as he left a mosque in the port of Merka.

It is unclear who is targeting the aid workers. Islamic insurgents control the town of Hudur. They have previously threatened specific agencies.

The Somali transitional government also has an uneasy relationship with aid organizations. It accuses them of feeding and sheltering Islamic insurgents that it believes are hiding among civilians who have fled the fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to respect the neutral and impartial status of humanitarian staff and allow them to do their work, spokeswoman Michele Montas said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Alarming trend
Noting the killing of the two aid workers in Somalia and one in Afghanistan, Ban expressed alarm "at the increasing trend of killing and abduction of aid workers in both countries," Montas said.

Clashes between the insurgents and the Somali government and their Ethiopian allies have displaced more than a million people this year. Thousands have been killed since Ethiopian troops entered the country in December 2006 in support of the shaky U.N.-backed government. The insurgents had taken control of the capital and much of the south.

But in recent months insurgents launched a series of attacks on Somali towns and now control the country's third largest city. The government, which many Somalis view as brutal and corrupt, has failed to deliver basic services and comes under daily attack in Mogadishu.

Most international aid workers have been pulled out of the country this year, leaving their operations in the hands of Somali staff. The organizations say Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and around half the population of the country will be dependent on aid by the end of the year, but attention has been diverted by a series of attacks by Somali pirates on international shipping.

The failed state has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991 then turned their heavily armed clans on each other.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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