French tourists held hostage in Yemen freed

25th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

SANAA, Sept 25, 2006 (AFP) - Four French tourists kidnapped by Yemeni tribesmen more than two weeks ago were safe and well on Monday after having been freed, Yemeni and French officials said.

SANAA, Sept 25, 2006 (AFP) - Four French tourists kidnapped by Yemeni tribesmen more than two weeks ago were safe and well on Monday after having been freed, Yemeni and French officials said.

The group of Frenchmen, who were seized on September 10 in the town of Ataq, in Shabwa province southeast of Sanaa, were released and taken by helicopter to the Yemeni capital, said a local security official.

"The four French (nationals) have arrived by helicopter at the military base" next to the city's airport, the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

They were "resting at the ambassador's residence in Sanaa" and in good health, said a diplomat from France, whose Yemeni embassy had also confirmed their release earlier.

But the diplomat, who also wished to remain nameless, declined to give AFP any details about arrangements for their return to France.

Foreigners are frequently seized by Yemen's powerful tribes for use as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government. More than 200 have been abducted during the past 15 years.

All have been freed unharmed except for three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants in December 1998. They were killed when security forces stormed the kidnappers' hideout.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy expressed his country's "very sincere gratitude" to the newly re-elected Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his "personal involvement" to secure the release of the Frenchmen.

Yemeni lawmaker Awadh Bawazir, a tribal notable who has in the past been involved in mediating the release of Western hostages, told AFP earlier that he had seen the French tourists after they were released.

They were "released following negotiations with the captors and tribal mediation, not by force," Yemen's state-run Saba news agency reported earlier, quoting a security official in the region.

However, security forces were still looking for the captors, an interior ministry official told the agency.

On Sunday, President Saleh had said the four tourists would be released "within hours".

The kidnappers had been demanding the release of relatives held by the authorities. They previously briefly held a German family and accused the authorities of reneging on the agreement that paved the way for their release.

But Saleh, who on Wednesday won another seven-year term as president, said last week that the kidnappers "want to blackmail us" and that "serious and firm measures will be taken against the kidnappers."

The day before Yemen's presidential election, Saleh had said the hostages would be freed "by the end of the week".

Tribal leaders involved in the negotiations with the hostage-takers had said a deal on offer for the Frenchmen's release focused on a personal pledge from the president to address their demands after the election.

Mediators had sought to secure the hostages' release with an offer of substitute hostages from the families of provincial officials, but the deal fell through at the last minute after one of the officials declined to deliver his son as promised.

The five relatives whose release the kidnappers were seeking would be transferred to Sanaa from the southern Abyan province, where they are currently being held pending the president's decision, one of the negotiators told AFP last week.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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