The British Government has changed its advice to tourists visiting the Kenyan coast following the kidnap of a French woman by Somali pirates.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising against ‘all but essential travel to coastal areas within 150km of the Somali border’ following the attack by an armed gang in the Lamu archipelago. Previously it had advised against going within 60 kilometres of the border.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said he feared there were ‘copycat kidnappings’ taking place in the region.
Marie Dedieu, 66, who uses a wheelchair, was snatched by armed Somali militants following a fierce gun battle with local police.
Two gunmen burst into Ms Dedieu’s beach-front bungalow at 3.30am on Saturday on the island of Manda, where Ms Dedieu lives for six months of the year.
Ms Dedieu’s Kenyan boyfriend John Lepapa, 39, said one of the gunmen had lifted Ms Dedieu on to his shoulders and carried her to the gang’s motorboat.
Mr Lepapa said: ‘She pleaded with them to take things, even money, and spare her life. But they would not listen.’
Coastguard vessels managed to track down the pirate boat believed to be carrying Ms Dedieu yesterday but the kidnappers escaped into Somalia following a gun battle.
Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala said: ‘They’ve crossed the border into Ras Kamboni. There are two aircraft on top of them monitoring their position.’
‘We can see that a few of the kidnappers are injured. They are 15 miles from our border.’
The incident follows an attack on a British couple on 11 September near Lamu in which David Tebbutt, 57, was shot dead and his wife Judith, 56, was abducted.
The couple from Bishop’s Stortford were the only guests at the Kiwayu Safari Village, 25 miles from the Kenya-Somalia border.
The FCO’s statement warns that: ‘Beach-front accommodation in that area and boats off the coast are vulnerable.’
Mrs Tebbutt is now believed to be held in the northern Amara area of Somalia but no contact has been made with her kidnappers and no ransom has been demanded.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said there were ‘possibly copycat kidnappings’ taking place in the region.
Mr Hague told Sky news: ‘Clearly we are worried about the situation there. There is the case of Mrs Tebbutt that we are trying to deal with as best we can.
‘But now we are seeing possibly copycat kidnappings taking place. That is very alarming.
‘It is sad and we are working with the Kenyan authorities and urging them to improve security in any way they can.’
The Kenyan Minister for Tourism released a statement seeking to reassure tourists.
Mr Balala said: ‘The Government of Kenya deeply regrets this incident given that security and safety of tourists and visitors to Kenya is of paramount importance.
‘It has noted that this incident took place in a private residential area whilst security in tourist facilities has already been increased.
‘We wish to reassure visitors to our North-Eastern coast and indeed to all other tourism areas in the country that the Government is closely monitoring the situation with a view to ensuring high-level security for everyone.’
Mr Balala said that attacks by Somali pirates had only affected a small part of the country’s territory.
He said: ‘A glance at the map will show that these events have occurred hundreds of kilometres away from the coastal and inland destinations which are so popular with the majority of our visitors.
‘Tourism being an important sector to Kenya’s economy, the Government will spare no efforts in ensuring tourists enjoy their holidays and stay in the country without any apprehension.’