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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 December 2007, 22:24 GMT
French newsman seized in Somalia
Gwen Le Gouil, holding his prestigious Prix Albert Londres (file picture)
Gwen Le Gouil was awarded this year's Prix Albert Londres
A French journalist has been abducted in northern Somalia by unidentified gunmen, France has confirmed.

The victim has been identified as Gwen Le Gouil, a cameraman. It is not clear for which organisation he was working.

"He was abducted this morning at around 1100 (0800 GMT). The journalist arrived in Bosasso yesterday," a humanitarian worker told AFP news agency on Sunday.

French authorities were in contact with "those who seem to be the kidnappers," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

He said France would do all it could "so that our countryman can be freed as quickly as possible".

'Well and healthy'

Puntland government officials and elders said the abductors had asked for a ransom of $70,000 (35,000).

"We have seen the journalist and he is doing well," said one elder, Abdihadir Ibrahim Haji.

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"There are efforts under way to release the journalist. We hope that he will be released soon. The information we got indicates that he is well and healthy," added Abdulkadir Muhamoud Adne, deputy mayor of the port town of Bosasso.

Mr Le Gouil was apparently in the semi-autonomous Puntland region for a story on human trafficking.

Bosasso is the embarking point for thousands of Somali migrants who cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, hoping to reach Europe.

The attempt often ends in tragedy. This weekend the bodies of more than 50 people who set off from Bosasso were reported to have washed up on the Yemeni coast.

'Deal turned sour'

Mr Le Gouil is an award-winning journalist, landing this year's Albert Londres prize for a video report on the killing of 17 humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka.

His driver told Reuters news agency that three men armed with AK-47 rifles seized him about 70km (45 miles) from Puntland's port town of Bosasso.

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

He said he thought the journalist had contacted the armed group about a story on Somali migrants being smuggled to Yemen - but that the deal turned sour.

Puntland has been known as the most stable part of otherwise lawless Somalia.

However, it has become associated with kidnappings, hijackings and piracy.

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