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Gunmen kidnap French journalist in north Somalia

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - Gunmen in Somalia’s northern Puntland region kidnapped a French journalist on Sunday, the area’s deputy governor said.

He had no information on the identity of the reporter or his media organization.

“A French journalist has been kidnapped by unknown gunmen,” Yusuf Mumin Bidde told Reuters. “Puntland security officials are now meeting on that issue.”

The reporter’s driver told Reuters the attack, by three men wielding AK-47 rifles, took place some 70 km (45 miles) east of Puntland’s port town of Bosasso.

“I, with the translator, tried to talk to the gunmen who demanded a $70,000 ransom,” Omar Ahmed said.

He said it appeared the journalist had contacted the armed group about a story on Somali migrants being smuggled to Yemen -- but instead he was seized.

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France does not have a direct diplomatic presence in Somalia but a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said it had been informed of the incident by its embassy in neighboring Kenya.

“We are doing all we can to gather further information and follow developments in the situation so that our compatriot can regain freedom as soon as possible,” the spokesman said.

Known for its relative stability in a country plagued by lawlessness, semi-autonomous Puntland has become increasingly associated with kidnappings, hijackings and piracy.

In May two foreign aid workers were seized and later released after negotiations between their captors and clan elders, while in October gunmen hijacked a cargo plane carrying khat, a lucrative narcotic leaf.

Additional reporting by Nick Antonovics in Paris; Writing by Katie Nguyen; Editing by Richard Williams