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Kenya Kidnapping

Somalia border to be closed due to kidnapping of aid workers

AP

Nairobi, Kenya

10/15/2011

Kenya has deployed troops and six helicopters to try to rescue the pair, who apparently have been forced to continue on foot with their captors. They had been headed toward Somalia.

  • Juan Antonio Bastos, head of the Spanish office of Doctors Without Borders. Photo: EFE

    Juan Antonio Bastos, head of the Spanish office of Doctors Without Borders. Photo: EFE

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Kenyan security forces hunting for Somali gunmen and two kidnapped Spanish aid workers found their vehicle abandoned and mired in the desert as aid agencies scaled back relief operations in the world's biggest refugee camp in response to the abduction there.

Their vehicle got "stuck somewhere. They have abandoned (it), they are now on the run, walking," said Yusuf Haji, Kenyan Defence Minister.

Kenya has deployed troops and six helicopters to try to rescue the pair, who apparently have been forced to continue on foot with their captors. They had been headed toward Somalia.

Haji said "these ladies were travelling in a private vehicle and they had not taken an escort," adding their kidnapping was "not as a result of laxity on the part of the police or the security forces."

His comments were echoed by George Saitoti, Kenyan Minister of Internal Security.

Saitoti said that when Kenya agreed to receive refugees who fled the drought in Somalia, it warned the international community that there were "inherent risks over the fact that not everybody crossing from Somalia coming as a refugee is a bona fide refugee, and that there could be elements who could be sympathizers or members of the Al Shabab."

He added Kenyan security forces would thoroughly screen "all the people" who are in the Dadaab camp.

Saitoti also said Kenyan forces would pursue al-Shabab militants into Somalia in order to protect its borders. Saitoti said Kenya's territorial integrity is threatened by terrorism.

He added Kenyan officials have closed the border with Somalia, meaning that refugees fleeing the famine there will not be able to cross legally.

The head of the Spanish office of the two kidnapped women's aid group, Doctors Without Borders, said Friday in Madrid that the group has had no contact with their workers after they were seized on Thursday.

Juan Antonio Bastos identified the women as Montserrat Serra i Ridao, 40, from Girona in northeast Spain and Blanca Thiebaut, 30, from Madrid.

Bastos called for discretion from the international media and said his organization for the moment had no idea where the women were being held.

The UN temporarily suspended all non-lifesaving aid operations in the Dadaab refugee camp following the kidnappings, a spokeswoman said.

Hundreds of staff are confined to their offices, forcing the cancellation of services like education, counseling and relocation of families until further notice.

In recent months, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing a spreading famine in southern Somalia have swollen the severely overcrowded camp. Most of the nearly half-million people in Dadaab, a sprawling, dusty wasteland about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Somalia-Kenya border, are refugees from Somalia's 20-year-old civil war.

Gunmen seized the two women Thursday after shooting and injuring their Kenyan driver.

The kidnapping is believed to be the first such seizure of foreign aid workers from the camp, although Somalis have kidnapped two other Europeans from Kenya in the past six weeks.

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