Talks underway to release kidnapped tourists

11th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

SANAA, Sept 11, 2006 (AFP) - Yemen said Monday that talks were underway to try to secure the release of four kidnapped French tourists, but their captors insisted that members of their own tribe jailed by authorities must first be freed.

SANAA, Sept 11, 2006 (AFP) - Yemen said Monday that talks were underway to try to secure the release of four kidnapped French tourists, but their captors insisted that members of their own tribe jailed by authorities must first be freed.

"Opinions were divided within the captors' tribe, with some favouring the release of the tourists in return for an undertaking from authorities to free the detained tribesmen," said a source close to local authorities in the southeast region where the four were seized by armed tribesmen Sunday.

However, "others insisted that the tourists should not be released before the prisoners are set free. Since authorities did not keep their past promises, those who insisted on not releasing the hostages before the prisoners are freed carried the day," the source said.

Local sources said that despite the tribe's decision to keep the tourists in captivity, the government enlisted the help of some of the tribe's notables to negotiate their release.

They said that while all options were open, including the use of force, the government has decided to wait 24 hours to give the mediation efforts a chance to succeed.

A tribal source said the kidnappers were members of the Al-Abdullah bin Daham tribe which also abducted a German family of five last December.

The tribesmen abducted the four French tourists in protest at the authorities' failure to keep promises to release jailed members of their tribe in exchange for freeing the German family at the time, the source said.

The jailed tribesmen are being held over a vendetta against members of a rival tribe, the source added.

"Mediation efforts are continuing and we are awaiting results," Interior Minister General Rashad al-Alimi told AFP earlier. But he said the negotiations had "yet to bear fruit".

Armed tribesmen have repeatedly seized Westerners to put pressure on the central government to respond to their demands, and the latest abduction came 10 days before Yemen goes to the polls to elect a president and new local councils.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling General People's Congress condemned the abduction in a statement posted on its website, saying it "undermined Yemen's reputation and will have negative effects on the economy, tourism and Yemen's relations with other countries."

Combating violence is one of the themes of the veteran president's campaign for the September 20 polls, in which he is virtually certain to win a new term in office.

France's ambassador to Yemen, Alain Moureau, has been in telephone contact with Alimi, said a French diplomat who asked not to be named.

"The tone is optimistic," she said, adding the Yemeni authorities had said Sunday they believed the release of the hostages was "a matter of hours".

Alimi on Sunday assured the French mission the authorities were doing their best to secure the prompt release of the Frenchmen, who were seized in Ataq in Shabwa province along with a Yemeni translator.

On Monday, the French embassy in Sanaa was maintaining contact with Yemeni authorities.

"We remain mobilised to obtain their release as fast as possible and we are in permanent contact with the Yemeni authorities," the French diplomat told AFP.

The tourists' identities have not been revealed.

The negotiations were initially orchestrated by Yemen's deputy minister for education, Abdul Aziz bin Habtour, a native of Shabwa who was in the province.

Alimi said the government had upgraded its mediation to obtain the release of the hostages, and it was now led by the president's adviser for military affairs, Abdullah Ali Eleiwa.

Between 1991 and 2001, more than 200 foreigners were kidnapped in Yemen.

The hostages have generally been released unharmed, but three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants were killed when security forces stormed their hideout in December 1998.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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