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Kidnapped French Woman Dies in Somalia


French woman Marie Dedieu (undated photo)

French woman Marie Dedieu (undated photo)

France's foreign ministry says an elderly French woman kidnapped by suspected Somali militants in Kenya earlier this month has died.

French officials who had been negotiating for the release of Marie Dedieu said Wednesday that unspecified contacts informed them of her death.

Officials say Dedieu probably died because she was not given her medication for cancer and heart problems, which she was required to take every few hours.

Dedieu was in her mid-60's and used a wheelchair, which the kidnappers did not take with them.

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Dedieu from her private beach home in northern Kenya on October 1.

On Sunday, Kenyan authorities launched a military operation into neighboring Somalia to hunt down members of the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab, which Kenya holds responsible for Dedieu's kidnapping.

Kenya also suspects al-Shabab is involved in the recent abductions of a British tourist and two Spanish aid workers from Kenyan territory.

The Kenyan military forces are facing heavy rains and muddy terrain as they advance into at least two regions of southern Somalia.

On Wednesday, Kenyan troops were reportedly closing in on the al-Shabab-controlled town of Afmadow in Somalia's Jubba region, where residents are said to have been fleeing in fear of a battle.

Officials and witnesses told VOA Somali Service on Tuesday that Kenyan troops, backed by helicopters, had also passed through the Somali border town of El-Waq and advanced to Somalia's Gedo region.

In the Somali capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, Kenyan and Somali government officials pledged to carry out "coordinated pre-emptive action" against "armed elements" that threaten both countries. The agreement appeared to limit Kenyan military action to Somalia's Lower Jubba region.

A suicide car bomb on Tuesday killed at least five people and wounded nine others near Somalia's foreign ministry, where the high-level meeting was taking place. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, Kenyan police are stepping up security measures after al-Shabab promised on Monday to attack Kenyan targets unless the government withdraws its troops from Somali territory.

Al-Shabab has denied responsibility for the abductions, and has called on Somalis to defend against what it says are Kenyan "aggressors" and "occupiers."

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