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Kenya rejects ransom deal for kidnapped Cuban doctors with Al-Shabaab

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenya has refused to cede to a deal negotiated by Cuba with Al-Shabaab for the release of two Cuban doctors who were kidnapped by the militants.

For ten months now, Assel Herrera Correa and Landy Rodríguez have been held captive by the militants, who have been asking for ransom.

The two were kidnapped at the northeastern town of Mandera in April 2019 and efforts to rescue them have since dragged on.

But Cuba, which partnered with Kenya to have dozens of doctors in Nairobi, has been pushing for negotiation with Al-Shabaab, to secure the freedom of the medics.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, the Cuban president, is said to have tasked his deputy, Maria Chapman, to convince Kenya to strike a deal with Al-Shabaab by paying a ransom.

But despite persistence by Havana, Nairobi is said to have rejected the deal, which would have seen her part with a whopping $1.5 million to the Al-Qaida linked group.

The militants shot dead one of the security details of the doctors before crossing over the border to the Gedo region in the company of the two, officials had said.

A driver attached to the two is facing terror charges in Nairobi with intelligence sources directly linking him to the bizarre incident which threw authorities into a limbo.

Besides deploying Special Forces to Bala-Hawo and El-Adde to pursue the kidnappers, the Kenyan government has been using elders from either side of the border to secure freedom of the two.

Even before the recent development, there were similar claims of ransom last year, which would be dismissed later on by the Kenyan government.

“We do not negotiate ransom as a matter of government policy but the operation to rescue the two Cuban doctors is ongoing,” Monica Juma, the then Foreign Affairs minister, told reporters.

Multiple interviews with elders who had crossed over the border revealed that the doctors were "giving medical attention" to villagers in El Adde.

But to secure their release, the elders said, Al-Shabaab had demanded the hefty ransom, with an effectively disoriented rescue mission.

In December 2019, Ms. Chapman said the doctors were in "good condition" during a press conference in Havana, which come days after her trip to Nairobi.

“The Kenyan authorities affirmed that both doctors, Assel Herrera and Landy Rodriguez, are well and they will continue their efforts, as well as those carried out by our country, for their safe return to Cuba,” Ines told reporters in Havana after returning from a trip to Kenya.

The latest development could throw Kenya's relationship with Cuba into jeopardy, given the prolonged rescue mission that seems to have hit a dead end.

Kenya has been at war with Al-Shabaab, a move that has led to increased raids within its territory, despite the deployment of over 3,000 troops to Somalia particularly in Jubaland.

Although Kenya evacuated Cuban doctors from Al-Shabaab prone counties after the abduction of the two, there have been no signs of canceling the deal with Cuban authorities.