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Somalia24 December 2007

French cameraman freed by kidnappers after being held for eight days

French freelance cameraman Gwenlaouen Le Gouil was released today by the armed gang that had been holding him in a village in the semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland since 16 December, Reporters Without Borders learned from Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary-general of its partner organisation in Somalia, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

“Le Gouil was recovered by traditional chiefs at point half-way from where he was being held,” Osman said. “He is now free, and he is in a hotel in Bosasso with French diplomats.”

“We share the joy and relief of Le Gouil’s family and friends on this Christmas Eve,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We salute the French diplomats who worked closely with the Puntland authorities and traditional chiefs to make this success possible. This worrying episode proves that the Puntland region has become a hunting ground for groups of kidnappers who have made a business of abduction and piracy. Journalists and relief workers operating there should take extra care and should adopt the necessary protective measures.”

Le Gouil, who was on assignment for the Franco-German TV station Arte, was held by a clan-based militia of about 100 men in Maarero, a village in a mountainous region near Bosasso, Puntland’s main port. His kidnappers, who specialise in smuggling people to Saudi Arabia via Yemen, had been demanding a ransom for his release.

Located opposite Yemen, Puntland’s coast is used for smuggling both arms and illegal migrants to the Gulf countries. This lucrative trade is operated by small, clan-based gangs backed by their own militias. Although some arrests have been made in recent years, the local authorities have little control over the situation in this partially mountainous region. The income from the trafficking feeds a significant proportion of the local population.

Two foreign relief workers who were kidnapped in the same area in May were released as a result of negotiation between their abductors and traditional chiefs. In October, gunmen seized a air cargo of khat, a leaf that is widely consumed as a stimulant in the Horn of Africa.

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