MOGADISHU, Somalia - Security forces surrounded gunmen who kidnapped a Spanish doctor and an Argentine nurse working for an international aid group in northeastern Somalia yesterday, officials said.

The two women were seized near the building in Puntland where they worked for Doctors Without Borders.

Puntland is a staging post for human traffickers running boats into Yemen, and piracy has been rampant off its coast. In recent months, the U.S. Navy has led international patrols to combat piracy in the region, cutting down on the pirates' ability to rob merchant ships and vessels carrying aid.

A French journalist was released Monday after eight days in captivity in Puntland. Kidnappers had demanded about $70,000 in ransom, but police said it was not paid.

"Since the pirate activities have subsided at sea, criminals decided to start kidnapping people on land," Puntland Trade Minister Abdisamad Yusuf Mohamed Abwan said.

A Puntland security official said security forces had surrounded the kidnappers in a mountainous area. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The kidnappers were negotiating to secure their own freedom, Roger Pek, a spokesman for the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, told the Associated Press by telephone from Barcelona, Spain.

Puntland is about 930 miles north of Mogadishu, the Somalian capital at the center of an Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year. The United Nations says Somalia is facing Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

Somalia, an arid nation in the Horn of Africa, has had no functioning national government since 1991, when clan leaders overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, then turned against one another.