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Africa

Kenyans intensify hunt for abducted Frenchwoman

©

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-10-03

Days after wheelchair-bound Marie Dedieu was kidnapped from her beach house on a Kenyan island near the Somali border, Kenyan and French officials were racing against time Monday to try to secure her release.

The hunt for the captors of a disabled Frenchwoman intensified on Monday amid fears that the latest abduction could severely hit the tourism to Kenya, one of the country's most lucrative industries.

Kenyan authorities were trying to establish contact with the kidnappers of Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old, wheelchair-bound French national who was kidnapped over the weekend from her beach home in Manda, an idyllic Indian Ocean island of the Lamu Archipelago off Kenya’s northern coast, near the Somali border.

Authorities are trying to determine if Dedieu’s abductors were Somali pirates, or members of al Shabaab - a militant Islamist group that controls much of central and southern Somalia – or a criminal gang.

Local police officials told reporters that the kidnapped Frenchwoman was “already in Somalia”.

In an interview with the AFP, Stephen Ikua, the district commissioner for Lamu, speculated that Dedieu was probably kidnapped by al Shabaab militants from her Manda Island banda - a traditional thatched beach house.

Dedieu’s abduction was the second attack on foreigners along Kenya’s northern coastline in less than a month. The British tourist Judith Tebbutt, was seized on September 11 from her beach hut north of Lamu. Her husband, David Tebbutt, was killed in the attack. She is believed to be held by Somali pirates.

Timing, targeting of attack raises questions of complicity

On Monday, Kenyan police officials were questioning a member of Dedieu’s staff, police sources told the AFP.

"The man we have in custody was working at the woman’s home and he is assisting us with the investigation," said a police source speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity. "There are aspects we want him to clarify to us because he is crucial in this investigation," he added.

Reporting from Kenya, FRANCE 24’s Stéphanie Braquehais said the kidnapping early Saturday before dawn has raised questions about how and why Dedieu’s abductors targeted the elderly, disabled Frenchwoman who was well known in Manda, having lived on the island for the past 15 years.

“The abductors apparently went straight to her house. They would need insights into who was in the house at that time, and there are many questions: did they know there was a foreigner in the house and if so, how did they know that?” said Braquehais.

In an interview with Braquehais, Dedieu’s landlord wondered why did the attackers head straight for the beachside banda when there are several hotels and resorts in the area.

Dedieu and her companion, John Lepapa, a 39-year-old Kenyan, had just returned from a vacation in France last week and the timing of the attack has also aroused suspicions.

Members of Dedieu’s house staff told reporters they pleaded with the abductors not to take the elderly, disabled woman.

A co-founder of MLF (Mouvement de libération des femmes), a leading French women’s rights group, who also acted in the film “Bed and Board” by the celebrated French film director François Truffaut, Dedieu had been wheelchair-bound since undergoing an accident several years ago. She is also battling cancer and requires regular medication.

Lengthy, complicated negotiations ahead

More than 48 hours after the abduction, there was no word of any ransom demand in exchange for Dedieu’s release although such demands are not always made public given the delicate nature of such negotiations.

Kenyan officials told reporters that mediators had been sent to Somalia to try to secure Dedieu's release. But according to Braquehais, such negotiations can be lengthy and complicated with the chances of a quick release dropping once the critical hours just after the abduction passes.

“In the past, groups that have kidnapped people in the region have been known to sell their hostages to other groups, such as al-Shabaab and Hizb al-Islam,” said Braquehais, referring to a local Islamist militant group that merged with the al-Shabaab last year.

The latest abductions have increased fears that the longstanding security problems in Somalia - an impoverished, conflict-ridden state that has not had a functioning government in more than two decades – could spill over into neighbouring Kenya.

Local Kenyans, especially those in the tourism industry, have expressed outrage that Saturday’s kidnapping occurred in the region just weeks after a British tourist had been abducted.

France has issued a travel advisory warning against travel to Lamu. “Isolated hotels and resorts and more generally, all residential areas with direct access to the sea are directly threatened,” said the advisory, which was posted Sunday.

France's external intelligence agency DGSE and the French secret service are cooperating with their Kenyan counterparts in the investigations, according to French officials in Paris.

A French secret agent, Denis Allex, who was kidnapped in the Somali capital of Mogadishu in July 2009 is believed to be in captivity in Somalia. A second agent, who was kidnapped along with Allex, was released a month after his abduction.

Date created : 2011-10-03

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