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Somalia/France

Kidnapped French agents now held by rebels

Article published on the 2009-07-15 Latest update 2009-07-15 17:50 TU

The Sahafi hotel where two French people were kidnapped on Tuesday.
(Photo: Reuters)

The Sahafi hotel where two French people were kidnapped on Tuesday.
(Photo: Reuters)

On Wednesday French media quoted a Somali official as saying the two French security consultants kidnapped this week were now in the hands of "Islamist rebels".

Somalia's Defence Minister Mohammed Addi Gandhi earlier told RFI that the abductors of two French security consultants in Mogadishu were "not recognised as part of the Shebab militita or of an Islamist group".

He said the armed men who seized the pair from the Sahafi hotel on Tuesday were "armed people who could demand a ransom, but these are not political kidnappings".

Although Gandhi said the men had not been taken by an "Islamist group" or by the Al-Shebab militia, he said the abductors were people who "contributed to violence in Mogadishu".

But an anonymous Somali government authority told the AFP news agency that the hostages had "changed hands".

"They are held by Islamist rebels," he said, "talks with the government for their release are still going on."

French officials have confirmed that the two French nationals were in Somalia to train Somali government forces.

Five hundred Somalis are due to follow training in Djibouti in September, where France's largest overseas military base in located. The US also maintains an army base in Djibouti, its only one on the African continent.

The start of this training has been brought forward by a month.

The French Foreign Ministry described the status of the two kidnapped men as "official and not that of journalists" but the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders criticised the men for allegedly having posed as journalists.

"Their behaviour endangers journalists in a region where media personnel are already in danger," the group said.

Police in Mogadishu and the hotel's management have said the two men had claimed to be journalists.