Armed men kidnapped a former German diplomat and his family touring the mountains of eastern Yemen on Wednesday and pressed the Yemeni government for the release of jailed members of their tribe, officials in both nations said.

The five missing Germans — identified by a spokesman for Germany's Foreign Ministry as former Deputy Foreign Minister Juergen Chrobog, his wife and three children — were traveling as tourists in a two-car convoy when a group of gunmen surrounded their vehicles, forced them into the kidnappers' cars and sped off, said government officials in Shabwa, the province where the incident occurred.

The German official spoke on customary condition of anonymity, and the Yemeni officials were not authorized to speak to the press. Members of the tribe involved in the kidnapping, who likewise refused to be named, also said a former German deputy foreign minister was among the captives.

The manager of the tour company hired to take the Germans sightseeing said he had been in constant touch with the family since the abduction, using the mobile telephone of the tour guide who was with them.

Mohammed Abu Taleb, of the Abu Taleb Group, said Chrobog told him "the family was fine."

He said that Chrobog told him that the family was taken as a bargaining chip for the tribe to try to win the release of five of its members.

The kidnappers were believed to be members of the al-Abdullah bin Dahha tribe, five of whose members were arrested two months ago after a clash with another tribe, al-Maraqsha.

Tribesmen frequently kidnap tourists in an attempt to force concessions from the government in Yemen, a poor, mountainous nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula where state control in outlying areas is shaky.

Hostages are usually released unharmed, but several were killed in 2000 when security forces carried out a botched raid to free them.

Elders from other tribes began mediation with the kidnappers to try to win the Germans' release, Shabwa's deputy governor Nasser Ba'oum told The Associated Press.

A senior Interior Ministry offical also arrived in Shabwa later Wednesday to try to meet the kidnappers, signalling increased interest from the government, said Nasser Mohammed Bajabal, a parliament member from Shabwa.

The mountainous region on the edge of the Rub' al-Khali — the vast desert of northern Yemen and southeast Saudi Arabia — is frequented by tourists visiting Shabwa, the capital of the Kingdom of Hadhramout, dating to 1,000 B.C., and the ruins of other ancient towns along incense trade routes that once ran through southern Arabia.

Chrobog, 65, was deputy foreign minister in then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government, which left office in November, and served as Germany's ambassador to the United States from 1995 to 2001. He was on a private trip to Yemen at the invitation of the former Yemeni ambassador to Germany, German government officials said on condition of anonymity.

In 2003, Chrobog headed a crisis team that negotiated the release of 14 tourists who were kidnapped in the Sahara desert. His wife, Magda Gohar-Chrobog, is a translator and the daughter of an Egyptian writer.

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry referred to Chrobog only as missing, not as kidnapped.