Friday, 28 November 2008

Spanish and British journalists kidnapped in northern Somalia refused a police escort and arranged for their own security through their translators,

Spanish and British journalists kidnapped in northern Somalia refused a police escort and arranged for their own security through their translators, who are suspected of having abducted them, officials said on Thursday.
Spanish freelance photographer José Cendón and British journalist Colin Freeman, who were working on a report on piracy for Britain's Daily Telegraph, were kidnapped on Wednesday in the port of Bosasso, the capital of the semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland.
"On arrival, the authorities warned them to take a police escort, but they turned this down and hired their own security from an unknown militia group hired by their translators, who we suspect of being the kidnappers," Puntland Information Minister Abdirahman Mohamed Bankah said in a press conference.
Puntland's authorities "are doing everything possible to obtain information on their whereabouts and taking the necessary measures to free them," Bankah said.
The journalists' driver, Liban Said Omar, told Efe that the two journalists had been in Bosasso for a week working on a story about piracy when they were abducted.
In recent months, pirates from Puntland have become more active, seizing several dozen ships, including the Saudi-owned supertanker MV Sirius Star and the Ukrainian cargo ship Faina, which was carrying arms.
The pirates are still holding the two vessels, along with about 15 other ships, and demanding the payment of ransom.
There are reports that the kidnappers have taken the journalists to a mountainous area north of Bosasso.
Puntland presidential spokesman Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, meanwhile, said the journalists were in the region illegally.
"They were not here legally because they did not report their identity to police on arrival," Mohamoud Qabowsade told Shabelle Radio.
Mohamoud Qabowsade told Efe on Thursday by telephone that the three translators and facilitators hired by the journalists were behind the kidnapping, but he did not provide any evidence to back up his allegations.
"I have warned journalists who come here that they should not make contact with independent press facilitators because they have links to armed gangs and could kidnap them. If they come here, they should have police escorts," the presidential spokesman said.
Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said on Thursday in Brussels that Spain and Britain had created a "crisis group" to deal with the journalists' kidnappings.
Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, meanwhile, said Spain had not yet received any ransom demands from the kidnappers.
The Venezuela-born Cendón has won several awards for his work covering conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, including the 2007 Oskar Barnack Leica Prize for the story "Fear in the Great Lakes," which took him to psychiatric hospitals in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo.
The 34-year-old Cendón currently works out of Addis Ababa.
The Spanish photojournalist's family is anxiously awaiting word from the kidnappers, Cendón's brother-in-law, Manuel Canedo, told Efe from the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.
"Up to now, we knew wherever he was, he was fine, because every few days he would call or send an e-mail ... but the situation is different now. You don't know anything," Canedo said.
Two other Western journalists are still missing in Somalia, where they were abducted in August along with a Somali cameraman, and they have reportedly been taken to a hideout in the country's southern region by an armed group.
Last December, a Spanish doctor and an Argentine nurse working for Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped in Puntland.
Spanish Dr. Mercedes García and Argentine nurse Pilar Bauza were released in January after $200,000 in ransom, according to Somali officials, was paid.

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