Odyssey through the desert: Kidnappers take tourists to Libya

26th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

The kidnapped group consists of 11tourists -- five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian -- plus eight Egyptian travel company staff.

Cairo -- Nineteen people kidnapped by an unknown group of masked men in the Egyptian western desert have now been transferred to Libya, the Arab satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya reported on Thursday, days after they were taken from Egypt to Sudan.

The kidnapped group consists of eleven tourists -- five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian -- plus eight Egyptian travel company staff.

The travelers had been on a desert safari of Egypt's Gilf Kebir region in the Western Desert when they were snatched by a gang of masked men on September 19.

A spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, Ali Youssef, said on Wednesday that government forces had surrounded the village in northern Sudan, near the Egyptian border, where the kidnappers were thought to be hiding the hostages. It is not known how the group managed to cross the border into Libya.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that it was unclear whether the kidnappers had taken the hostages across the border with them, or whether the move was as a result of negotiations.

Negotiations have been undertaken with the kidnappers by the Federal Government of Germany on behalf of the governments of the other abducted tourists.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that a crisis team was working on the issue round the clock.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces arrested dozens of suspects and questioned clan chiefs in a nomadic area in the country's far south on Wednesday, witnesses told DPA.

The security operation targeted the desert safari area called Wadi el-Gadid in an attempt to identify the kidnappers.

Sudan's government had agreed with Egypt, Germany, Italy and Romania not to use force in any attempt to free the hostages, Youssef said.

Conflicting reports continued to emerge on the identity of the kidnappers: An Egyptian government spokesman said they were from Djibouti, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper reported.

But other Egyptian officials were quoted as saying one of the kidnappers came from Chad, while his three accomplices came from Sudan -- and an official at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the kidnappers were all Egyptians.

The head of the tourism council in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, famed for Pharaonic temples, said the Egyptian government should speed up its efforts to resolve the situation.

"The Egyptian government is taking slow steps despite the seriousness of the issue," Ahmed Abbas said. "The issue affects Egypt's safety reputation."

Abbas said the area had experienced similar kidnappings before and the government did little about it. He urged the government to take serious measures to secure the safari regions.

Berlin-based daily Tagesspiegel reported Wednesday that a German man and his Egyptian companion had been robbed and held hostage a few months ago by members of the Sudan Liberation Army.

The pair had not reported the incident to avoid a lengthy police investigation, the newspaper said.


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