Saturday, March 8, 2008
Waris Dirie, former model and women’s rights campaigner, reported missing.
March 7, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Waris Dirie, a former model who has campaigned against female genital mutilation and written an international best-seller about her experiences, is missing, police and her manager said Friday.
Dirie, 43, has not been seen since early Wednesday when police saw her getting into a taxi in Brussels, manager Walter Lutschinger said in a telephone interview.
“We are really very scared,” said Lutschinger, who has been her manager for seven years.
Dirie - who was born in Somalia and now lives in Vienna, Austria - gained international fame as a model posing in Chanel ads and acting in a James Bond film before launching her campaign against female genital mutilation in 1996.
She recounted her own experiences of suffering genital mutilation as a child in the book “Desert Flower,” which became an international best-seller.
Dirie was due to speak to two conferences on women’s rights organized by the European Union in Brussels this week, including one Thursday attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Dirie’s disappearance comes a week after French police said they’d found the body of another former model of African origin who had campaigned against female genital mutilation.
Guinean-born Katoucha Niane’s body was found floating in the Seine River in Paris. French police said an autopsy showed no signs of foul play, pointing to the possibility that the 47-year-old Niane may have fallen accidentally into the river.
On Friday, Belgian police launched an official missing persons appeal for Dirie, asking the public for information. The police said they also were looking for the taxi driver that took her from the area between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Lutschinger said Dirie had been involved in an altercation at a hotel reception after a taxi driver had taken her to the wrong branch of the Sofitel hotel chain after a visit to a night club. The police were called and drove Dirie around Brussels looking for the correct hotel, after she had apparently forgotten where she was staying.
At one hotel, while staff and police were checking for her name on a computer, Dirie walked out and climbed into a taxi that drove away, Lutschinger said police told him.
He said hotel staff told him Dirie had said she was going to buy cigarettes before getting into the vehicle. Lutschinger said he thought she was carrying little money and no identification documents or cell phone when she vanished.
Dirie’s description of how she underwent genital mutilation without anesthesia as a child shocked those who knew her from glossy fashion magazine covers, Chanel perfume ads and her role in “The Living Daylights,” a 1987 James Bond film.
She chronicled her own experience in a best-selling autobiography, “Desert Flower,” and three sequels, “Desert Dawn,” “Desert Children” and “Nomad’s Daughter,” and served as a U.N. goodwill ambassador to fight the practice.
“There are millions of children - young, hopeless, desperate - who need help, a voice, somebody, somewhere,” she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview.
Dirie was due to travel to the Netherlands to receive an award Friday in the town of Kerkrade.
By PAUL AMES , Associated Press and Aoife White.
On the Net:
Waris Dirie Foundation: http://www.waris-dirie-foundation.com