Somali officials must help free held reporter-CPJ

Wed Dec 19, 2007 4:20am EST

NAIROBI Dec 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. media watchdog urged authorities in northern Somalia on Wednesday to help ensure that a French journalist kidnapped three days ago is freed safely.

Elders and officials from the Puntland region are trying to negotiate the release of Gwen Le Gouil, seized by gunmen on Sunday while working on a piece about African migrants being smuggled to Yemen.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was concerned about the safety of the award-winning journalist who was being held in a mountainous area with no access to medicine or clean drinking water.

"We urge the Puntland authorities to do everything in their power to ensure Le Gouil is released safely and as soon as possible," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.

"This is yet another example of why the authorities must make efforts to protect journalists as they do their work in this volatile region."

Known for its relative stability compared to chaotic south Somalia, semi-autonomous Puntland has, however, become increasingly associated with kidnappings and piracy for ransom.

Le Gouil's kidnapping highlights the risks faced by journalists working in Somalia, which according to the CPJ is the second most dangerous place in the world to report in, after Iraq.

Eight Somali journalists have died this year covering a conflict between the Ethiopian-backed government and Islamist-led insurgents.

(Writing by Katie Nguyen)



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