#Somali elders in talks with al-Shabaab over Cuban doctors

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Elders in the Somali community are highly regarded and have the ability to resolve dangerous and sometimes complex issues.

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Mandera elders are in Somalia to negotiate with their counterparts the release of two Cuban doctors seized by suspected al Shabaab militants on Friday.

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Elders in the Somali community are highly regarded and have the ability to resolve dangerous and sometimes complex issues.

At least 10 of them left for Somalia yesterday to start the talks.

At least 100 Cuban doctors work in 47 counties across the country in an exchange programme that saw about 50 Kenyan doctors travel to Cuba for specialised training last year.

On Friday suspected Islamist militants abducted Cuban doctors Herrera Correa and Landhi Rodriguez in an ambush in which a police bodyguard was killed near the Somali border.

It was the second abduction of foreigners in five months by a suspected al-Shabaab extremist group linked to the al Qaeda terror group.

The gunmen may have taken the doctors to Somalia, police spokesman Charles Owino said. He said the doctors’ driver had been detained to help with investigations.

On Friday Mandera Governor Ali Roba condemned the attack and appealed to the elders to initiate talks with their counterparts in Bulahawa and ensure that the two return to Kenya safely.

“We appeal to the security agencies to do whatever it takes to save the lives of our Cuban doctors and bring them back from captivity. I send my condolences to the family of the departed officer,” he said.

Mandera remained tense following the incident. Businesses were closed as security officers searched for the doctors.

Mandera has been the scene of frequent attacks in which dozens of civilians and security personnel have been killed. Al-Shabaab has taken responsibility for most of the attacks.

In November, raiders wounded five people among them two children. They also kidnapped an Italian charity worker in Chakama, a small town near Malindi. The fate of the Italian woman is unknown.

Al-Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia’s central government and establish its own governance based on Islamic law.

The group frequently attacks Kenya, mostly on the border with Somalia, to put pressure on the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia.  In January the group staged a major attack in Nairobi’s DusitD2 hotel in which 26 people died.

On Tuesday, the US embassy upgraded its travel warning for Kenya, listing “Do not travel” to Mandera county.

“Exercise increased caution in Kenya due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping,” the warning read.

On Friday the government deployed a multi-agency security team to Somalia in search of the missing doctors.

Elite units from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and National Police Service (NPS) are leading the search, police spokesman Owino said.

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