Gunmen kidnap disabled Frenchwoman from Kenyan resort

1st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

An armed gang snatched a wheelchair-bound Frenchwoman from her home near a luxury resort on the Kenyan coast and fled towards Somalia, officials said Saturday.

The kidnapping, which happened just across an idyllic lagoon from the celebrity-packed resort island of Lamu, came less than a month after a British woman was abducted and her husband killed a few miles to the north.

"It is true that we are looking for an elderly woman from France who was abducted by gunmen last night from Manda bay," a senior police officer in the coastal city of Mombasa said.

"We have not been able to locate her," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.

A French diplomat confirmed the kidnapping.

"We are liaising very closely with the Kenyan authorities to try to find her," the diplomat told AFP.

The foreign ministry in Paris also confirmed the abduction.

"We have dispatched a chopper to chase the abductors who are suspected of being headed to Somalia," Ernest Munyi, head of police for the Coast province, told AFP.

He explained that the abductors forced a man working for the Frenchwoman and living in a nearby dwelling to take them to his employer.

"The gang knocked on the door of the house help who stays in an adjacent house and when he resisted, they forced themselves in. They then directed him to take them to the house of their boss, which he did," he said.

"We are yet to establish if the gang was Somali pirates, the Shebab militia or a normal gang," Munyi said.

Local sources said the woman was wheelchair-bound and well known in the area, where she spends much of the year.

She was kidnapped on Manda island, just across a lagoon from Shela, an exclusive resort on Lamu island popular with the rich and famous. Princess Caroline of Monaco owns property there.

Manda island -- part of the Lamu archipelago on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast -- hosts a luxury hotel and was until recently considered to be one of the safest destinations in the country.

On September 11, gunmen attacked a British couple in their fifties -- Judith and David Tebbutt -- on holiday north of Lamu.

The Tebbutts, from the town of Bishop's Stortford in southeastern England, were the only guests at the Kiwayu Safari Village, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the border with conflict-ravaged Somalia.

David Tebbutt was shot dead and his wife was captured. She is believed to have been sold on to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.

Somalia has been lawless for two decades after plunging into a bloody civil war with the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships and pleasure craft in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa and have taken millions of dollars in ransom for their release.

A Briton kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, environmental researcher Murray Watson, is still missing.

A French secret service agent has also been held in Somalia for more than two years.

The Lamu archipelago is often included in package holidays to Kenya, together with game-viewing safaris in some of the country's national parks.

Tourism is a key foreign currency earner for Kenya, East Africa's largest economy. The sector had only recently recovered from the violence that had erupted after disputed 2007 polls and scared tourists away.

© 2011 AFP

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