Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a United Nations compound overnight in southern Somalia, witnesses said on Monday, but U.N. guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.
One U.N. official in Wajid, 70 km (miles) northwest of Baidoa, said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them overnight. The compound is used for storing humanitarian aid.
"After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them," the U.N. official told Reuters.
One of the U.N. security guards was injured, he added.
Another U.N. official said nine aid workers staying in Wajid had been evacuated to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya.
Western security agencies say Somalia has become a haven for Islamist militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond. Violence has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another one million from their homes.
Somalia has been mired in civil war for 18 years, and the administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls only small pockets of the coastal capital Mogadishu.
Ali Isak, a local resident in Wajid, said it was unclear who launched the pre-dawn attack, but that the town was controlled by al-Shabaab rebels. The United States accuses the group of being al-Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa nation.
Last month, al-Shabaab banned the U.N. Development Program, U.N. Political Office for Somalia and U.N. Department of Safety and Security from operating in its territory.
Elsewhere in central Somalia, hundreds of pro-government militiamen on trucks fitted with heavy guns occupied Bulahawa town, near the Kenyan border, on Monday without firing a shot.
Local man Ali Hassan said al-Shabaab gunmen who had been in control of the area looked to have melted away.
"Now there are armed men, some in military uniforms, in the centre of town," Hassan said by phone. "No fighting took place."