Three French nationals missing in Yemen
Two women were among three French aid workers reported missing in southeast Yemen on Saturday, with a security official saying they have probably been kidnapped.
The foreign ministry in Paris confirmed that three French nationals were missing in the restive Arabian Peninsula state.
The Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the three were reported missing when they failed to return to their residence in Seyun in Hadramawt province from their nearby office for lunch.
He said officials were alerted by a phone call from the residence to say they had not turned up.
The official added that "their mobile phones were suddenly switched off" and said in response to a question that he could not rule out that they had been abducted.
"The most likely thing is that they have been kidnapped," he said.
"Units of the security forces were immediately deployed to search for them," added the official.
The three have been working in Seyun since mid-April for Triangle Generation Humanitaire, a French NGO working in Yemen since 1998.
The foreign ministry in Paris said the French authorities were doing everything possible to find them.
"We received this information from our embassy in Sanaa about the disappearance of three of our nationals in Yemen," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
He said the French authorities were "in close contact with the Yemeni authorities, including the security forces" to locate the missing trio.
Valero said he was not in a position to comment on the identities of the three.
An official with the Lyon-based aid group told AFP the missing staffers were "two women and a man in their thirties."
On Thursday, the foreign ministry in Paris urged French people in Yemen to leave the country as quickly as possible because of violence surrounding protests demanding the departure of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A day later, it said non-essential French embassy personnel were being pulled out.
Foreigners have frequently been kidnapped in Yemen by tribes who use the tactic to pressure the authorities into making concessions.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen over the past 15 years, and most have later been freed unharmed.
Valero put the number of French nationals in Yemen at several dozen.
The most recent kidnap of a foreigner in Yemen was of a Saudi diplomat, kidnapped in April in the capital Sanaa over a trade dispute involving a Saudi businessman. He was freed unharmed 10 days later following tribal mediation.
© 2011 AFP