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15 July 2009 

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Media Rights Groups Angered by French Military Officials Posing as Journalists in Somalia

15 July 2009


International media rights organizations are expressing outrage and dismay over reports that two French government security advisors had posed as journalists before they were kidnapped Tuesday by a gang of unidentified gunmen in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Reporters Without Borders says the kidnapping of two French military officials in Mogadishu is in itself a cause for deep concern. But it says reports that the two men had posed as journalists prior to their abduction has both shocked and puzzled journalists around the world.

The Paris-based organization says it has received a confirmation from several Somali sources that the French nationals, who had been in Mogadishu for nine days, had registered at the Sahafi Hotel as journalists. Early Tuesday, nearly a dozen gunmen in a pick-up truck burst into the hotel and took the men away at gunpoint. After the abduction, the hotel registry was reportedly confiscated by Somalia's interior minister.

A researcher at Reporters Without Borders, Clothilde Le Coz, tells VOA if the advisors were on an official government mission to Somalia, as the French Foreign Ministry claimed on Tuesday, it is not clear why the men needed to use journalism as a cover for their work.

"We are trying to get proof that they did write 'journalist' on the registry. The manager of the hotel said it and also our correspondent got that information. We are very concerned because journalists are accused of being spies for other governments," Le Coz said. " We are trying to make people understand that they are not spies. They are journalists and they are doing their work. And if people missioned by a government are saying that they are journalists, it puts [real] journalists in danger."

Since early 2007, Islamist insurgents, led by an al-Qaida-linked militant group called al-Shabab, have been battling to oust Somalia's U.N.-backed government from power. The insurgents already control vast areas of southern Somalia and foreign fighters are now reportedly backing al-Shabab in the group's bid to seize the capital.

The deadly conflict has prevented most Western journalists from traveling to Somalia in recent years. But 15 local journalists have been killed since 2007. Dozens of others fled Somalia after receiving death threats from all sides in the conflict. 

Six journalists have been killed this year, with four journalists the apparent victims of targeted assassinations. Two foreign journalists, Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan, are still being held for ransom nearly a year after they were abducted on a road south of Mogadishu.

Another media rights group, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, says Somalia overtook Iraq in the past year to become the most dangerous country in the world for working journalists. The organization called the allegations against the kidnapped French military advisors "deeply troubling."

No group has yet taken responsibility for the kidnapping, but sources tell VOA that al-Shabab and an allied insurgent group called Hisbul Islam are both claiming rights over the hostages and a tense stand-off has ensued between the two groups.

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