Monday, 31 May 2010

Fate of German, British hostages still unknown

Source: Reuters, By Raissa Kasolowsky 31/05/2010

SANAA-Yemen's foreign minister said on Monday the fate of three Germans and one Briton kidnapped in Yemen last year was still unknown after two German girls belonging to the group were released to Saudi Arabia this month.

The release was brokered between Yemeni tribal sheikhs and Saudi Arabia without the involvement of the Yemeni government, which was approached separately by Riyadh, Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said.

The girls were members of a German family of five belonging to a group of nine foreigners taken hostage in northern Yemen in June last year, of which three women -- two Germans and a South Korean -- were later found dead.

"There is no information at this stage if they are alive or not," Qirbi said in an interview.

"As for the case of the two kids it was a tribal sheikh who communicated with the Saudis," he said. "We were in coordination with the Saudis, not the tribal sheikhs."

There was no exchange of ransom money, he added.

Kidnappings of foreigners and Yemenis are common in the Arab country, often used by disgruntled tribesmen to press demands on authorities. Most are resolved with no hostages being harmed.

Last week, a U.S. couple holidaying in Yemen were released unharmed after spending a day in the captivity of tribesmen demanding the release of a relative jailed over a land dispute.

Diplomats say the case of the nine foreigners, kidnapped in the northern province of Saada where Shi'ite rebels have fought the government on and off for almost six years, was different.

Yemen believes the kidnappers have links to al Qaeda a

The killing of the three women soon after the group was taken hostage and the lack of information on the kidnappers was a sign of deteriorating security in remote areas.

"This case fell outside of any of the patterns. There was no ransom demand, and no claim of responsibility. It was highly unusual," a development expert in Sanaa told Reuters.

Yemen, a neighbour of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been a Western security concern since the Yemen-based al Qaeda arm claimed responsibility for a failed December attempt to bomb a U.S. bound passenger plane.

Last month, the group tried to kill Britain's ambassador when a bomber threw himself in the path of his convoy in Sanaa.

The country recently reached an uneasy truce with northern Shi'ite rebels after one of the bloodiest rounds of fighting between the two sides yet, and Sanaa is also facing rising violence between government forces and southern secessionists.

Qirbi said the shock in Yemen in response to the killing of the three hostages may be why nobody claimed the kidnapping.

"I think the kidnappers were in a very difficult position as a result of that because they felt that every part of Yemeni society was against such criminal acts," he said

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