Second kidnapping threatens to destroy Kenyan tourist industry


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The Independent Online

Kenya is facing a crisis in its tourism industry after a second kidnapping in less than a month from the holiday islands near the country's border with Somalia. The attacks have brought the chaos of war-torn Somalia, about 60 miles to the north, into the chain of tropical islands popular with well-heeled tourists and celebrities.

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Marie Dedieu, 66, a disabled Frenchwoman, was being held captive in neighbouring Somalia last night after she was dragged from her beachfront bungalow on the Lamu Archipelago on Saturday. Kenyan authorities claimed that its coastguard had exchanged fire with the kidnappers but that they escaped in a speedboat into the mangrove forests of Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia.

Britain and France responded to the abduction by warning their citizens to avoid any "non-essential travel" inside Kenya within 150km of the border with Somalia. Meanwhile, Kenyan police said yesterday they had arrested a security guard from the island of Manda where Ms Dedieu was taken. Briton Judith Tebbutt, 56, from Hertfordshire, is being held inside Somalia after being snatched from a nearby island on 11 September, in an attack in which her husband David was shot dead.

Kenyan authorities have blamed militant Islamist group al-Shabaab for the latest attack. Similar claims made in the wake of the Tebbutt kidnapping proved false and she is believed to be being held in central Somalia by a pirate gang.

Kenya's tourism minister, Najib Balala, said it was time to "destroy" the Somali militants: "If we have to go across and attack them, I think it's high time we do that."

Witnesses on Lamu said the gunmen on Saturday appeared to have been tipped off and beached their speedboat rights outside Ms Dedieu's bungalow and stormed in demanding the "foreigner". The wheelchair-bound pensioner was then dragged from her bed. "We just heard that everyone should lie down and they took her and drove off with her," said Ms Dedieu's Kenyan partner John Lepapa Moyo.

Kenyan officials said last night that Mzee Aboudi, the security guard who alerted the police, had been arrested in connection with the kidnapping. Similar arrests were made of two local men following the assault on the Tebbutts.

Ali Babitu Kololo, who worked at the resort where the Tebbutts were staying, has pleaded not guilty to two charges. He has denied the abduction of Mrs Tebbutt, and a charge of robbery with violence. A second Kenyan man, Issa Sheck Saadi, is expected to appear in court later.

Yesterday, holidaymakers were already leaving Lamu, while others cancelled bookings as Kenya's bungled response destroyed confidence in security. Whereas the attack on the Tebbutts happened on the northern fringe of the archipelago, this weekend's raid struck a short windsurf-ride away across the lagoon from Shela, the heart of the islands' holiday trade.

"It will really hit us big this time," said the manager of Amber House, a hotel in Shela. She said they had received a cancellation and were expecting more.

"Who wants to go on holiday in a trouble spot?" asked the owner of another hotel who did not want to be identified.

There is widespread anger among locals involved in the tourist trade at the slack response of the authorities to last month's attack. Residents said there had been sightings of suspicious boats in the area prior to Saturday but nothing had been done.

The Coast Province police chief, Aggrey Adoli, confirmed that the attempted rescue of Ms Dedieu had failed: "We have not managed to get her back but we have adequately secured the border to ensure it does not happen again," he told AFP.