Thursday, March 22, 2012

British hostage - Judith Tebbutt - freed after months held as hostage !!


The relief has come months later and at a high cost !!  - the kidnapping and the murder in a  luxury resort on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast turned what should have been the holiday of a lifetime into a nightmare.  I have posted earlier on the lurking danger at Horn of Africa -  Piracy – the capture of vessels, keeping to custody the crew for ransom for months and some threat to damaging the ship. I had also  posted on Sept 12, 2011 about Somalian piracy spilling to land – of Kenya                                                         (Read : http://sampspeak.blogspot.in/2011/09/piracy-spreading-to-land-british-woman.html)

Kenyans are known to be good athletes, especially long distance runners - Kenya is more famous for its National parks and wildlife reserves -  Tsavo National Park, Nakuru national park, the Maasai Mara, Aberdares national park, that attract tourists from all over the world.  Kenya is bordered by Somalia to the north-east, Ethiopia to the north, South Sudan to the north-west, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south.   Kiwayuu is a small island in the eastern part of the Lamu Archipelago, situated in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. The main economic activity is fishing and attracts tourists for its snorkelling and diving pools. 

Tourists flock such islands and those who venture to Kiwayu  would enjoy their stay in a banda built in the local Bajuni tradition with palm thatched roof and carpeted floor – but it turned out to be a nightmare for Ms Judith Tebbutt  - that incident  dealt a severe blow to a tourism industry; several countries, including Britain and the US, issued travel advisories, warning their citizens not to visit parts of Kenya that are close to Somalia but that is no solace to Tebbutt.  In October, Kenya sent its troops into Somalia to push the Islamist rebels of al- Shabaab, which it blamed for the kidnappings, away from its borders. Al-Shabaab denied any involvement but threatened to retaliate and there have been several grenade attacks since the incursion.

In that gory incident, the British tourists  David and Judith Tebbutt were attacked at night by a gang carrying guns within hours of arriving in a beach cottage close to the border with lawless Somalia.  It was reported  that armed bandits arrived at the private resort by speedboat at midnight, stormed into the couple’s secluded hut, which had just a piece of cloth as the door, and demanded all their money. The gunmen gained entry very easily because only a piece of cloth was used in the place of the door at their cottage. It is thought Mr Tebbutt, 58, who is finance director of publishers Faber and Faber, tried to stop the gang but he died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The pirates then forced Mrs Tebbutt, 56, into the motorboat and locals reported that they sped off north in the direction of Somalia. Despite helicopters, speed boats and a spotter plane deployed in the search, no sightings were reported.  Perhaps that was the first time of Somali Sea pirates spanning their wings to land and abducting western hostages who are becoming sitting duck victims in the lucrative multi-million pound business in  ransom demands.  It was reported at that time that there was not much of security and Tebbutts were the only residents when the attack took place.

Now after more than 6 months, the solitary widow -  British hostage Judith Tebbutt has been freed by her kidnappers after being held in Somalia.  She is quoted as telling  ITV News: "I am really relieved to have been released. Seven months is a long time and … the circumstances, with my husband passing away, made it harder.  "I am just happy to be released and I am looking forward to seeing my son, who successfully secured my release. I don't know how he did it – but he did, which is great."  She reportedly had been put on board a plane from Adado to Nairobi.   Adado is the Central dist of Somalia and is considered a safer place.

There has been varied speculation on the ransom that has been paid to secure Tebbutt's release.  Reuters has a report that  Tebbutt had been handed over to regional administration officials early on Wednesday after a ransom had been airdropped.  The rate is speculated to be in the order of several hundred thousand dollars.  "The average for a ship with a crew is about £3.6m, but for an individual it has been between $300,000-400,000. Because the pirate clans were asking for a lot for ships, there has had to be some effort to manage expectations over kidnapped individuals."  There are also some reports that kidnapping of individuals have been allowed in exchange for a "tax" of between 10-15% paid to the Islamist al-Shabaab militia, from whose territory some kidnappings have been carried out.

It is openly held policy of British Govt that they do not pay ransoms and that they do not facilitate concessions to hostage-takers.  Tebbutt's mother, Gladys Atkinson, said she could not believe her daughter was free.  The MP for Watford, Hertfordshire, where the Tebbutts' son, Oliver, is quoted as stating that their thoughts are with the son of the deceased.   BBC footage showed Tebbutt wearing a green headscarf running towards a plane in a flat, barren landscape. A man in a bush hat and safari jacket was seen accompanying her, his arm around her shoulders.  In the weeks after the Tebbutts were targeted, attackers abducted a disabled French woman from another beach in northern Kenya and two Spanish aid workers from a refugee camp in the east African country.   After the string of incidents,  Kenya's government blamed  al-Shabaab, and announced tightening of its border.   Expectedly, Al-Shabaab denied it was behind the wave of kidnappings, and pirates – who usually focus on hijacking merchant ships and private yachts off the lawless country's coast –  were reported to be  holding Tebbutt.  Now after months of turmoil, Tebbutt is free – though the release would have costed them much and it would take long for the scars to heal. 

On a different wicket, the  Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is laying ground for the next General Election in Kenya despite a row over the poll date.  The commission mock election will gauge its preparedness for the March general election starting in Malindi and Kajiado North Constituencies.  The 2012 general elections will be different in that Kenyans will vote for six positions — President, MP, Governor, Women Representative, Senator and County Assembly Member.  Previously, voting was for President, MP and Councillor. The commission will seek to understand, among other things, the time it takes a voter to mark and cast the six ballots. Six ballot boxes will be used. The boxes will be coloured differently. The Commission is to  use imaginary candidates with caricatured images for the mock elections.

Presidential elections will be held in Kenya on 4 March 2013. Parliamentary elections will be held on the same date. Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki's second and final term comes to an end on or before December 31, 2012.  This will be the first presidential election under the new constitution that was passed during the 2010 referendum. Due to the terms of the new constitution, it could also be the first presidential election in Kenya where the candidates face a second round between the first and the second if none achieves simple (50%+1 vote)majority in the first round or if the winner does not get 25% of the votes in at least 24 counties.

With regards – S.Sampathkumar.

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