Kidnapped Frenchwoman dies in Somalia

19th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A disabled elderly Frenchwoman who was snatched from her beachfront home at a Kenyan resort island and taken to neighbouring Somalia has died, France said on Wednesday.

The foreign ministry said the circumstances of 66-year-old Marie Dedieu's death are not known, but her failing health had probably been a factor.

"This was an act of unqualified barbarism, violence and brutality," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

The announcement of her death came as the Kenyan army is engaged in an incursion against Al-Qaeda linked Shebab militants in Somalia, who it has blamed for a series of kidnappings of foreigners.

"The contacts through which the French government was seeking to obtain the release of Marie Dedieu, held in Somalia since October 1, have announced her death," the ministry said in a statement.

"Mrs Dedieu's state of health, uncertainty over the conditions of her detention and the fact that the kidnappers probably refused to give her the medication that we sent her lead us to believe that this tragic outcome is unfortunately the most likely," the ministry said.

A gang of 10 armed men seized Dedieu, 66, from Manda Island in Kenya's Lamu archipelago earlier this month and fled by sea to Somalia, fighting off an attempt by Kenya's navy to stop them.

There had been serious concern over the health of Dedieu, who was wheelchair-bound after an accident several years ago and required medication every few hours.

During a cabinet session on Wednesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy was "very, very upset" over Dedieu's death, Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Pierre Lellouche said after the session.

He said Sarkozy had been particularly upset over "the conditions of her kidnapping and of her death."

The foreign ministry said it had informed Dedieu's family of her death and was demanding the unconditional return of her remains.

"The French government expresses its profound shock, great sadness and solidarity with the family and loved ones of Marie Dedieu," it said.

"It also expresses its indignation at the cruelty and complete absence of humanity shown by our compatriot's abductors, whom we want to see identified and brought to justice."

Kenyan officials said they suspected Somali Islamist Shebab insurgents had carried out the abduction, but sources in Somalia dismissed the theory.

Dedieu had lived for 15 years in the Lamu archipelago, off Kenya's northern coast.

Her kidnapping was the second in the area in less than a month and dealt a further blow to Kenya's tourist trade after European governments warned travellers to avoid the Kenyan coastline near Somalia.

A British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, was seized to the north of Lamu and taken to Somalia on September 11 by an armed gang who killed her husband. She is believed to have been sold to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.

A third incident, the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers at the Dadaab refugee camp, took place last Thursday.

© 2011 AFP

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