Kidnappers bring disabled Frenchwoman to Somalia

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Armed kidnappers who snatched a disabled 66-year-old Frenchwoman from her beachfront home in a prized Kenyan resort have taken her to neighbouring war-torn Somalia, officials said Sunday.

With Kenyan forces obliged to stop their pursuit at the border and officials suspecting Somalia's Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab, chances dimmed of a quick release for the woman, named as Marie Dedieu.

Western countries rushed to update their travel advisories and Kenya to save its vital tourism industry following the incident, which came less than a month after a British woman was abducted from the same area and her husband killed.

"She's already in Somalia. I can confirm that," said Stephen Ikua, the district commissioner for Lamu, the idyllic archipelago on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast where Dedieu, who moves in a wheelchair, lived.

"It must have been Al-Shebab," he told AFP by phone, referring to the Somali insurgent group which has been battling the Western-backed Somali government for years and already holds a French secret service agent.

A Kenyan government statement earlier said the woman was taken from her home on Manda island by "10 heavily armed Somali bandits."

Kenyan forces went in pursuit, dispatching a helicopter and coastguard vessels to catch the kidnappers as they made their way by speedboat to Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia.

"In the ensuing shoot-out ... several of the abductors were injured but managed to enter" Ras Kamboni, the statement said, without offering any details on Dedieu's condition.

"We have not managed to get her back but we have adequately secured the border to ensure it does not happen again," Coast Province police chief Aggrey Adoli told AFP sunday.

"We have enough forces pursuing the attackers at the border," he said, adding however that Kenyan troops had not crossed into Somalia.

The kidnapping is the second attack on foreigners in less than a month in this part of Kenya near the border with Somalia.

Dedieu's home lies across a narrow lagoon from Shela, a town on the isle of Lamu popular with the rich and famous, including Monaco's Princess Caroline, who owns property there.

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

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

The latest kidnapping prompted France and Britain to issue new travel advice, warning travellers to avoid not only Somalia but the nearby Kenyan coastline as well.

This is a blow for tourism which is a key foreign currency earner for Kenya, East Africa's largest economy.

The Lamu archipelago is often teamed up with a game-viewing safari in a national park in holidays to Kenya.

The French consulate in Nairobi issued a formal warning to prospective visitors to avoid the archipelago and the region up to the Somali border.

Britain also issued tougher travel advice for Kenya, warning its nationals against all but essential travel to a long stretch of the coast up to the Somali border.

"We advise against all but essential travel to coastal areas within 150 km (93 miles) of the Somali border, following two attacks by armed gangs in small boats against beach resorts in the Lamu area," the new travel advice says.

"Beach-front accommodation in that area and boats off the coast are vulnerable."

Previously, London advised against all but essential travel to Kenyan coastal areas within 60 kilometres of the Somali border.

Shebab rebels control large swathes of southern Somalia, but Ras Kamboni, a former rebel bastion near the Kenyan border, is not currently under the control of any single group.

The Kenyan government said every effort would be made to find Dedieu.

"We fear for her health," French foreign affairs spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris, adding the woman who was retired and had been living in Kenya for about 15 years, was on a medical regimen when abducted.

Her companion, John Lepapa, a 39-year-old Kenyan who was present during the attack and who said he was shot at, said there were six assailants on land and four waiting in the boat, and "they all had guns".

© 2011 AFP

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