Home News Kidnapped Dutch couple freed in Yemen

Kidnapped Dutch couple freed in Yemen

Published on 14/04/2009

Sanaa — A Dutch couple kidnapped by Yemen tribesmen two weeks ago to pressure the government to pay compensation for a shooting incident last year were freed Monday evening, a government official said.

"The hostages were freed a little while ago," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP. "They are with tribal intermediaries and are on their way back to Sanaa."

But a tribal chieftain said that the freed pair were only likely to arrive in the capital on Tuesday.

"Because of the late hour and the rugged nature of the terrain, the hostages will probably spend the night with the intermediaries," he told AFP.

Jan Hoogendoorn and his wife Heleen Janszen had been held near Bani Dhibyan in an inaccessible part of the forbidding Al-Siraj mountains, 90 kilometres (55 miles) southeast of Sanaa after being kidnapped while driving just south of the capital on March 31.

The government official said the couple’s freedom had been achieved by the tribal mediators who had "reached agreement" with the kidnappers.

A tribal chieftain said part of the agreement was that the kidnappers would not be prosecuted.

The Dutch foreign ministry could not immediately confirm the pair had been released.

"We have heard that they are on their way to the capital," a foreign ministry spokesman said in The Hague. "We can confirm nothing until they have been seen by embassy personnel."

Soon after the kidnapping, negotiations began with the kidnappers’ leader, tribal chief Ali Nasser al-Siraji, with a view to securing the couple’s release in return for compensation for an incident in which a convoy headed by Siraji came under fire from a security check point, according to the mediators.

The attack allegedly took place last April on the road between Sanaa and the eastern town of Marib, and resulted in the wounding of several members of Siraji’s entourage.

"He has insisted that he will not release the hostages until his adversaries are at least questioned (by police) and held accountable, in addition to him receiving compensation," a mediator had said.

Siraji had modified an initial demand that the perpetrators of the alleged attack should be handed over to him.

The freeing of the couple comes a day after Hoogendoorn made an appeal via a video broadcast on a Dutch television channel to their government to refrain from using violent methods to release them.

"We call on the government not to use force to free us but to do it in a peaceful manner," he said in the broadcast.

"We want to survive," said his wife, adding she hoped their "stay" with their abductors "would be as short as possible."

Hoogendoorn also sent a message to his family "that everything is okay with us, we are treated very well (and) we are in a hospitable environment."

Foreigners are frequently seized by Yemen’s powerful tribes for use as bargaining chips in disputes with the government. More than 200 have been abducted over the past 15 years. Most have been released unharmed.

In late January, a German contractor working for gas firm Yemen LNG was taken hostage and released just days later.

In all the documented cases, the hostages have been freed unharmed, save for three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants in December 1998 who were killed when security forces stormed the kidnappers’ hideout.