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Africa

Two French officials kidnapped in Mogadishu

Video by J. Fanciulli and N. Rushworth

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-16

The French foreign ministry has identified two foreigners abducted in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Tuesday as French security advisers on a mission to train Somali government forces.

Gunmen stormed into a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Tuesday and kidnapped two French security advisers on a mission to train Somali government forces, according to the French foreign ministry.

In a statement released Tuesday, the French foreign ministry said the two men were French government employees "helping the federal transition government of Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in security matters." It did not specify the state agency or department they were attached to.

Ahmed was elected as president of Somalia's transitional administration in January and has been backed by the international community.

The two Frenchmen were snatched from Mogadishu’s Hotel Sahafi, where they had checked in as journalists. A senior Somali official, who spoke to the AFP on condition of anonymity, said the two had been training the country's intelligence services and had registered as journalists for their own protection.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abductions, which has highlighted the dangerous situation in Somalia, a country that has been without an effective government since 1991.

Reporting from Mogadishu, FRANCE 24’s Stephanie Braquegais said France has mobilised a massive operation to find the two men, but she noted that identifying the group could be difficult in Somalia, where hardline Islamist insurgents have been battling government troops on a daily basis in recent days.

‘In Somalia, it’s difficult to know who is who’

According to Braquegais, some Somali sources have even claimed that the abductions could be the work of the Somali Interior Ministry militias. But, she stressed, the reports were not confirmed and there were very few details available.

“The problem in Somalia is that everything is possible,” said Braquegais. “The government forces are very weak and actually comprised of an agglomeration of militias working for former warlords who have backed the Somali government. For the moment, they are composed of around 3,000 young men. When you go on the streets of Mogadishu, you can see them without any uniforms, dressed in their traditional clothes. Many of them do not even have proper shoes. In Somalia, it’s difficult to know who is who.”


On May 7, Islamic extremists from the Shabaab (literally “youth” in Arabic) and the Hizbul Islam militias launched a bloody offensive against the United Nations-supported government of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who was elected president last January.

Pro-government forces are struggling to contain the raging insurgency, and more than 200,000 Mogadishu inhabitants have left the city, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Strategic areas in the capital, including the presidential palace, the harbour and the airport, are protected by soldiers from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Around 500 Somali forces are to be trained in Djibouti, home to France's largest overseas military base and the only US army base on the African continent.
  
‘The abduction was over in a few minutes’

Tuesday’s abductions took place in Mogadishu’s Sahafi hotel, which is popular among visiting foreigners and is located in the relatively secure “green zone” of the Somali capital.

Describing the abductions, Braquegais said it took place around 8am local time and was “over in a few minutes”. She said that armed men arrived in two vehicles and blocked the road leading to the hotel.

“According to the hotel manager, they disarmed the security guards before rushing directly to the two persons’ room,” she said.

She added: “The abductors left with only one vehicle, a pickup, leaving a small broken-down Toyota at the scene, which was taken away by the Somali police a few minutes later.”

Date created : 2009-07-14

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