French reporter kidnapped in Somalia

Updated: 2007-12-17 10:07

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A French journalist was kidnapped Sunday in northern Somalia by gunmen who apparently were demanding a $70,000 ransom, authorities and a media watchdog said.

People crowd a refugee camp in Bosasso, Somalia, in this September 2007 file photo. [Agencies]

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders identified the reporter as cameraman Gwen Le Gouil and said he was doing a story on trafficking in illegal migrants. Without citing sources, the group said it appeared he was kidnapped by human traffickers demanding $70,000.

"The man has been abducted by armed men," said Yusuf Mumin Bidde, a deputy governor in Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northeast Somalia. "He had no security with him."

Ali Abdi Aware, a local government minister in Puntland, said a rescue operation was under way.

"The regional administration has sent forces to rescue the reporter," Aware told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate.

French authorities were in contact with "those who seem to be the kidnappers," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said from Paris. "I hope that the contact will not be lost and I hope that it only concerns a demand for ransom," he said in a television broadcast.

Puntland is a relatively stable region in a country beset by chaos and violence. But in recent months, it has increasingly become associated with rampant piracy off its coast.

"This kidnapping is even more alarming because it takes place in a lawless place where eight journalists have been killed since the beginning of this year," Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.

The group said Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists outside of Iraq.

Le Gouil was kidnapped just outside the port city of Bossaso, which is the main departure point for tens of thousands of Somalis who pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden. The destination is Yemen and onward to richer Arab countries, but the trip can be deadly.

The Bossaso-Yemen course also is part of a well-known arms smuggling route.

On Sunday, the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said the bodies of 56 people who recently set off from Bossaso washed up on shore in Yemen. Half the victims were women; five were children.

Some 27,960 people have made the voyage to Yemen this year, according to MSF. At least 593 died in the attempt and 659 were reported missing, the group said. Waves of migrants leaving West Africa for Europe make similarly perilous journeys.

Bossaso is about 930 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which is at the center of an Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. Last week, a director at the country's Security Ministry said a radical Islamic group that was driven from power one year ago by a Western-supported offensive is making a significant comeback in Somalia and the government can do little to stop it.

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