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MSF: Kenya Incursion in Somalia Threatens Rescue of Kidnapped Workers

  • Gabe Joselow

UNHCR's Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border, August 5, 2011.

UNHCR's Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border, August 5, 2011.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says it still is waiting for information on the whereabouts of two aid workers kidnapped in Kenya and believed to be held hostage in Somalia. An official with the group says it fears Kenya's military incursion into Somalia may compromise efforts to rescue the two women.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, says it has no information on who was responsible for abducting two Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya last week - or where the two women might be held.

MSF Director of Operations Raquel Ayora says the group is waiting for more information from the captors.

“Right now, we're almost in a passive way waiting for a contact to be made on the other side, which is the usually the way to proceed with that," said Ayora. "At the same time we are engaged with all the actors in the field passing the message on the way we would like this case to be handled.”

The women, both logisticians, were abducted in broad daylight as they left work at the Ifo II camp in Dadaab. The attack followed the kidnappings of two other European women from resort towns on Kenya’s east coast, one of whom has died in captivity.

Al-Shabab spokesperson Ali Mohamud Rage holds a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia, threatening Kenya, October 17, 2011.

Al-Shabab spokesperson Ali Mohamud Rage holds a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia, threatening Kenya, October 17, 2011.

The Kenyan government has blamed Somalia’s al-Shabab militants for the kidnappings and has used the attacks as justification for its ongoing military incursion into Somalia.

Doctors Without Borders has distanced itself from Kenya’s actions, and Ayora says the group worries the military operation could jeopardize the safe return of the two women.

“We fear that there might be a negative impact," added Ayora. "First of all, what we wanted to do is to make sure everybody understands that we consider that the best way of dealing with this situation is trying to find a nonviolent resolution of the case - a way of negotiating that doesn't involve any kind of use of violence.”

Ayora also expressed concern about the impact on the aid effort in Dadaab, which is hosting over 450,000 refugees, many of whom arrived this year fleeing famine and war in Somalia.

"Of course we are very worried about the situation not only because of this temporary reduction of activities of Doctors Without Borders but also because other actors had to follow the same path, and globally the level of services currently being provided to the population is not the same as before the incident so all of us, all the organizations would like to resume operations," Ayora said.

Al-Shabab denies any responsibility for the kidnappings in Dadaab or on Kenya’s east coast, as Kenyan troops continue to push deeper into Somalia in pursuit of the militants.

Al-Shabab has also vowed it will retaliate for the assault, threatening to strike targets in Kenya.

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