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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Kenya: Bandits Kidnap Two Italian Catholic Sisters in North-East"

From Catholic Information Service for Africa, November 10, 2008

El Wak, Kenya - Bandits are holding two Italian Catholic nuns they captured in a Sunday night ambush in the small town of El Wak on the Somali border in North-Eastern Kenya.

The sisters, members of the Contemplative Missionary Movement of Fr De Foucald, are Maria Teresa Olevero and Catarina Giraudo. Their condition and whereabouts were still unknown at the time of filing this report.

The bandits opened fire at the sisters' house before breaking in. A watchman at the house said he heard one of the sisters screaming as they were taken away.

El Wak is an outstation (sub-parish) of Mandera Parish, located some 230 kilometers away. The two sisters and a few other Catholics, mostly civil servants, were the only Christians in the majority Muslim town.

The Diocese of Garissa where El wak is located is also largely Muslim. The sisters' service to the local people included offering medical and nutritional care to malnourished children, expectant mothers and the elderly. They also ran a small dispensary.

The bandits are suspected to be from one of two clans that have been fighting in the area. The attackers also overran government quarters in the town and took away vehicles and other valuables.

According the public broadcaster KBC, there are fears that the bandits may have crossed the border into Somalia with the nuns and stolen vehicles.

Sr Maria Teresa has been in Kenya since 1972, while Sr. Catarina, a nurse, has served the East African nation since 1974. The latter has been in El Wak since 1984.

Mandera Central District Commissioner Ole Tutui confirmed the Sunday attack to KBC, saying the bandits lobbed a bomb at government quarters but no injuries or deaths were reported.

The attackers used heavy weapons mounted on a vehicle from where they sprayed the town with bullets. The district police chief Akello Odhiambo said that security personnel was pursuing the attackers.

Recently, the government launched a massive security operation in Mandera to quell inter-clan fighting over grazing land and water and to wipe out bandits. The operation came under severe criticism from politicians, local people and the civil society over allegations of serious human rights violations perpetrated by the security personnel.

On Saturday, the government said it would deploy more security officers, including the army, on the porous borders of Somalia to prevent foreign militia from crossing into the country and inciting clashes among clans in North Eastern Province.

Banditry is rife in Somalia, which has had no government since 1991. The country is also believed to have bases for the Al Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.

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