Cuban speaker in Kenya over fate of abducted doctorsWed, 21 Feb 2024 16:57:08 GMT

Cuba’s parliament speaker is visiting Nairobi in a bid to uncover the fate of two Cuban doctors abducted in Kenya by Somalia-based jihadists almost five years ago, its foreign ministry said.The mission by Esteban Lazo comes after the Al-Shabaab Islamist militant group claimed that the two doctors had been killed in a US air strike in Somalia last week.Lazo “has travelled to Kenya in order to engage in urgent procedures with the highest authorities of that country”, Cuba’s foreign ministry said in a statement published on Tuesday.He is “searching for cooperation and clarification”, following the reports about the deaths of Assel Herrera Correa and Landy Rodriguez Hernandez, who were kidnapped on April 12, 2019, it said.The foreign ministry was also establishing contacts with the Somali government “and addressed the US government via diplomatic channels on Sunday, February 18, asking for further clarification, and is still awaiting a response”, it said.The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab had said in a statement the two doctors were killed in “multiple drone strikes” in the southern Somali city of Jilib on February 15.The claims by the Islamist militant group, which has been waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government in Mogadishu for 16 years, could not be independently verified.The US Africa Command, in a statement to AFP on Monday, confirmed that an air strike had been conducted against the Al-Shabaab network near Jilib on that date.”We are aware of reports of a strike alleged to have killed two civilians,” it said.”We do not have any further information at this time about these reports, but we do take all claims of civilian casualties seriously.”Suspected jihadists had seized the two medics in the northeastern Kenyan town of Mandera, where they worked at the local hospital, and took them across the nearby border into Somalia. One of two police officers escorting the doctors was shot dead.A top Kenyan government official had said in May 2019 that the kidnappers were demanding $1.5 million for their release.The doctors were part of a 100-member Cuban medical brigade working in Kenya under a bilateral agreement.- Military counter-offensive -Al-Shabaab has waged a string of deadly assaults in Kenya in retaliation for the East African country’s decision to send troops into Somalia in 2011.Despite the attacks, the East African country remains a major contributor to the African Union force which backs Mogadishu in its war against the Islamist militants.Al-Shabaab fighters were driven from the capital and other urban areas in 2011 but they still control swathes of rural Somalia.The group continues to carry out attacks against security and civilian targets, including in the capital, despite a military counter-offensive launched in August 2022, US air strikes and the AU troops on the ground.Earlier this month, the AU peacekeeping force known as ATMIS completed the second phase of a troop drawdown after a four-month delay.Under a UN calendar, ATMIS is due to pull out completely from the Horn of Africa nation by the end of this year, handing over to Somali security forces.