REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- A French minister said Thursday that Somali gunmen who kidnapped a disabled Frenchwoman from Kenya are demanding cash for the return of her body.
French authorities announced Wednesday that Marie Dedieu, 66, had died in captivity in Somalia after being abducted on Oct. 1. Dedieu, who used a wheelchair, needed daily medication.
After a spate of kidnappings of foreigners, Kenya launched a military operation in Somalia over the weekend in a bid to defeat an Al Qaeda-linked militia that controls the south of the country.
"You have to know that the hostage takers are even looking to sell her body. It is completely disgusting," Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said, according to Reuters. "Letting her get blood poisoning, which is what she probably died of, and then trying to sell her body [shows] that these people only deserve contempt."
Kenya's military operation had been planned for months, according to analysts. But a spate of kidnappings of foreigners, which could hurt Kenya's $730-million tourist industry, was the trigger for the military operation.
The timing, just as the rainy season sets in, appears questionable. According to reports, military vehicles have gotten bogged down in the mud.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who has been criticized for his silence as the Kenyan military operation began, said Thursday in a speech the action was launched to protect Kenyan security.
"We will defend our territorial integrity through all measures necessary to ensure peace and stability. Our security forces have begun operations within and outside of our borders against militants who have sought to destabilize our country," he said.
He also called on Kenyans to report "bad elements" living in Kenya.
Kenya's deputy internal security minister, Orwa Ojode, has vowed to sweep up supporters of the militia, Shabab, in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, where many Somalis live.
"I am going to do a mother of all operations here in Nairobi to remove all Al Shabab and Al Qaeda," he told parliament Wednesday. "This is like a big animal with the tail in Somalia. We are still fighting the tail and the head is sitting here."
Aid agencies have expressed dismay at Kenya's military action, saying it will hamper efforts to fight the worst famine in decades.
“The main concern is that we are in the middle of a famine where hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk," Oxfam spokesman Alun McDonald said. "People are extremely malnourished and desperately need more aid. The last thing they need right now is more conflict that could displace more people and make it even harder for aid agencies to reach them.”
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Kenyan troops march during "Heroes Day" celebrations in Nairobi on Thursday. Kenya will use "all measures necessary" to protect its territory, President Mwai Kibaki said in his first comments since Nairobi sent troops into southern Somalia. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images