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Kenya: Italian government sends envoy to help release kidnapped nuns

 The Italian government is sending an envoy to Kenya in an effort to speed up the release of two Catholic nuns kidnapped by an armed gang last month, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini announced on Friday.

The former foreign undersecretary, Margherita Boniver, will travel to Kenya soon in order to ''heighten the levels of contact'' with the authorities, Frattini said.

Boniver is known for her humanitarian work, having founded the Italian branch of Amnesty International in 1973 and serving as its president until 1980.

The minister added that he would not discuss details of the case until the nuns were freed.

Caterina Giraudo, 67, and Maria Teresa Olivero, 61, were seized on the night of November 9-10 along with their Kenyan driver when the gang stormed the village of El Wak, near the border with Somalia.

The nuns, who belong to the Padre de Foucauld Missionary Movement, had been living for over 20 years in Kenya, where they worked at El Wak's small medical centre to help the disabled and those suffering from epilepsy and tuberculosis.

MISNA reported after the kidnap that some 30 men had entered the village and fired weapons for half and hour before driving the captives across the Somali border.

The head of the northern Italian missionary order to which the nuns belonged, Don Pino Isoardi, told Vatican Radio at the time that it seemed the armed band had intentionally targeted the nuns.

Kenyan sources initially said that the armed bandits were Somali fundamentalist guerillas, but other reports suggested they could be connected to feuding local communities.

Sources in Kenya are reported to have said the sisters are alive and in good health.