Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu, kidnapped by Somalia pirates, dies
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old Frenchwoman who was abducted by a band of Somali gunmen at the beginning of the month, has died in captivity, French authorities announced Wednesday.
Dedieu, who used a wheelchair, lived in a modest beachfront house on Manda Island, in the Lamu resort archipelago on Kenya's northern coast. She was seized by gunmen in early October, thrown into a speedboat and taken to Somalia, a war-torn country that has become a piracy base.
Kenyan authorities pursued the kidnappers but couldn't intercept them.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that it had been in touch with contacts in Somalia to try to secure Dedieu's release, but the contacts had informed ministry officials that she had died.
The date and circumstances of her death were unclear.
French representatives had managed to send medicine to Somali intermediaries in a bid to save her life. There are doubts as to whether she got it, according to the French government.
"Mrs. Dedieu's state of health, uncertainty over the conditions of her detention and the fact that the kidnappers probably refused to give her the medication that we sent her lead us to believe that this tragic outcome is unfortunately the most likely," the ministry statement said.
Dedieu had been living on Manda Island for 15 years. She and her Kenyan partner, John Lepapa, 39, had returned from France days before she was kidnapped, leading Kenyan authorities to suspect that the kidnappers may have been tipped off about her return.
"The French government expresses its profound shock, great sadness and solidarity with the family and loved ones of Marie Dedieu. It also expresses its indignation at the cruelty and complete absence of humanity shown by our compatriot's abductors, whom we want to see identified and brought to justice," the foreign ministry statement said.
Dedieu lived in a simple thatched house on the beach, a far cry from the luxurious mansions the rich were building in the area.
[Updated at 4:09 p.m. Oct. 19: She called it “her little corner of paradise,” said Claudine Mulard, a Los Angeles-based friend who had known Dedieu since they worked together in the French feminist movement in the 1970s. "She could swim every day ... She was full of life."
Dedieu had recently been treated for cancer and was also taking medication for a heart ailment, “which is why we freaked out when we found out” about the kidnapping, said Mulard, a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Monde.
Dedieu's friends are collecting signatures for a letter demanding more information from French authorities about the circumstances of her death and what was done to try to save her. They want Dedieu's body repatriated to France, Mulard said.]
During a Cabinet session on Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was "very, very upset" over Dedieu's death, Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Pierre Lellouche told reporters.
A few weeks before Dedieu's kidnapping, a British couple had been attacked by Somalia gunmen at the resort of Kiwayu on the Kenyan coast. David Tebbutt, 58, was shot dead when he tried to resist, and his wife Judith, 56, was abducted and whisked into Somalia.
Last week, two Spanish aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped in northern Kenya from the Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world, swollen by a flood of refugees fleeing famine in southern Somalia.
After Dedieu's kidnapping, Kenyan authorities threatened reprisals and over the weekend Kenyan forces invaded southern Somalia. They and forces of Somalia's transitional federal government have seized several key towns in southern Somalia -- Qoqani, Tabda and Afmadow -- according to the Kenyan military.
Kismayu, a port town and main base of Al Shabab, Al Qaeda-linked militants who control much of southern Somalia, is the next obvious target for the Kenyan military.
The spate of kidnappings has hit Kenya's $730-million tourist industry, which accounts for 10% of foreign earnings and had been recovering after a tourism slump that followed post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. Earlier, tourism collapsed after terrorist attacks in coastal Mombasa in 2002.
Last year, Kenya welcomed more than 1 million tourists, its highest number ever.
-- Robyn Dixon. Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles contributed reporting.
Photo: Marie Dedieu. Credit: Reuters