Freed European and Egyptian hostages arrive in Cairo

30th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Unconfirmed reports in Lebanon said Italy and Germany had each paid $10 million to secure their release.

Cairo -- An Egyptian military airplane carrying the 11 European tourists and eight Egyptian guides who were seized in Egypt 10 days ago arrived at an air base near the international airport.

Egypt's Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana and German ambassador to Egypt, Bernd Erbel, and his Italian counterpart received the freed hostages at the airport.

The 19 -- five Germans, five Italians, one Romanian and eight Egyptians -- were taken captive by a gang of masked men on Sept. 19 while on safari in the Gilf Kebir region of Egypt's Western Desert.

"The foreigners and Egyptians are all in good health," Garana told a press conference.

Garana also told reporters, "None of the states involved paid a ransom."

Unconfirmed reports in Lebanon meanwhile said Italy and Germany had each paid $10 million to secure their release.

The 19 were handed flowers on arrival at the East Cairo air base. They were transferred by military helicopter to Egypt`s Maadi military hospital near Cairo for health checks.

Thereafter, Garana said, the tourists could decide whether they wanted to remain in Egypt or return to their home countries.

Earlier Monday, Italian and Egyptian officials confirmed news reports that the hostages had been freed. Germany, however, said it could not confirm reports and advised reporters to treat the reports with caution.

"Our compatriots and the other hostages have been freed. We are ascertaining their health conditions," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Sources at the Italian embassy in Beirut had also told DPA that the hostages would be flown to Egypt.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaking as the hostages were being flown to Cairo, welcomed their release but advised vacationers to choose "safer" travel destinations, preferably in Italy.

"In Italy we have many beautiful things, for example our lakes," he said. "Perhaps it would be better to stay here rather than seeking paths where there is a high level of risk."

Berlusconi also said Italy had played a decisive role in securing the release of the hostages.

"We wanted the other governments involved to take a firm stand (against) a military blitz (to rescue the hostages), which some of them wanted to carry out," he said. "With many years of experience in government, we thought such a solution would have endangered the safety of the hostages."

A shootout between the Sudanese military and kidnappers who seized the 19 took place Sunday on Sudan’s border with Chad.

Six of the kidnappers were reportedly slain in the clash and two were detained. "It was a clash at a roadblock in which these people did not respond to a request to stop and thus a shoot-out ensured," Frattini told journalists.

Earlier the Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ali Youssef said that during the melee, the hostages were removed from the scene by 35 armed men in vehicles who suddenly crossed the border from Chad.

In a telephone interview with DPA, Youssef confirmed that all members of the group of kidnappers are Sudanese and denied reports that there Chadians were among them as previously speculated.

He added that among the Sudanese there are members of some armed groups from Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Youssef also criticized denials by the Chadian government that the kidnapped are on their territories. The Chadian ambassador to Washington, Mahmoud Adam Bashir, on Monday told the al-Arabiya news satellite channel, "We have no hostages on our territory."

The nationality and the whereabouts of the kidnappers has been the subject of conflicting reports.


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