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UK: Specific threat to Westerners in Somaliland

LONDON (AP) — British citizens should immediately leave the Somaliland region of Somalia because of a specific threat to Westerners, British diplomats said Sunday.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Britain's Foreign Office did not go into any further detail about the nature of the threat but noted that "kidnapping for financial or political gain, motivated by criminality or terrorism" is an issue throughout the country.

The new warning was issued only days after Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada urged their citizens in the Libyan city of Benghazi to evacuate in response to what was then described as an imminent threat to Westerners. European officials told The Associated Press at the time that schools were thought to be among the potential targets.

The exact reason for the warnings remains unclear, but they come at a time of heightened tension across north Africa. French and African land forces are battling al-Qaida-linked Islamists in northern Mali, while a renewed bout of unrest has gripped Egypt following the two year anniversary of the revolution that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.

A Jan. 16 attack on the Ain Amenas natural gas plant in the Sahara ignited a four-day siege by Algerian forces in which at least 37 hostages and 29 militants died. An al-Qaida-affiliated group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Libya also remains unstable following the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

It was unclear if any of those factors played a role in Britain's latest warning.

Somaliland, a former British colony, declared independence in 1991 when Somalia's central government in Mogadishu collapsed. The international community does not recognize Somaliland as a separate country.

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