ATAQ, Yemen – Negotiations with armed tribesmen who kidnapped four French tourists collapsed Monday, and authorities said all options, including use of force, were being considered to secure the release of the hostages.
"The negotiations have failed. Provincial officials are in contact with the government," said Mohammed al-Qibsi, one of the chief negotiators and an official of Shabwa province where the abductions occurred.
Asked what options the government has, he said: "All options are being considered, including military options."
The four tourists, all men, were abducted Sunday by members of the al-Abdullah tribe as they were heading to the southern port city of Aden.
The kidnapping in Shabwa province was the latest in a series of kidnappings of foreigners by armed tribesmen that have embarrassed the Yemeni government. They come just ahead of Yemeni presidential elections, scheduled for later this month.
The tribesmen want some of their imprisoned relatives released, according to government officials.
The negotiations were being handled by al-Qibsi and Abdullah Elewah, a former Defense Minister and the presidential adviser for military affairs.
At least 150 Yemeni troops were seen heading to the area where the hostages are being held, in an apparent effort to surround the kidnappers.
Two French diplomats were also seen in the province meeting with officials.
The kidnappers took the hostages to Rafad, the stronghold of the al-Abdullah tribe and a mountainous region in Shabwa. Rafad is 34 miles northeast of Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa.
Nasser Baoum, a local official in Ataq, said efforts were under way to revive the negotiations.
"We delivered food and other supplies to the hostages through mediators," Baoum said.
One of the leaders of the al-Abdullah tribe, Mullah Zabarah, said the kidnappers acted on their own.
"The president promised us to resolve the issue of the jailed tribesmen after the elections, but they (kidnappers) took matters into their own hands," he said.
The four Frenchmen were in a convoy of foreign tourists when armed gunmen blocked the vehicle they were in and took them hostage.
Members of the same al-Abdullah tribe also were behind the kidnapping of a former German diplomat and his family in December. Juergen Chrobog, his wife and their three children were released unharmed after being held for three days.
The French Foreign Ministry said Monday that the French embassy and Paris-based government agencies were working together on the negotiations.
A French diplomat said one of the hostages called Yemeni authorities shortly after the abduction and informed them that the hostages were being treated well and were healthy.
Elderly tribesmen had also been mediating with the kidnappers, who are demanding the release of at least four fellow tribesmen jailed by the government for more than six months.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is running in presidential elections later this month, has pledged to crack down on kidnapping, a tactic tribesmen frequently employ to win concessions from the government.
State control is shaky in outlying area of Yemen, a poor, mountainous nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.
In January, kidnappers abducted five Italian tourists, releasing them unharmed six days later when they were cornered by security forces in the mountains of north Yemen.
While hostages are usually freed unhurt, several were killed in 2000 when Yemeni soldiers carried out a botched raid to free them.
According to Yemeni officials and media reports, as many as 325 people were kidnapped between 1991 and 2001. They include 91 French, 80 Germans, 37 Britons, 23 Americans and 22 Dutch.