Kidnapped French Tourists Freed in Yemen

The four French tourists kidnapped by Yemeni tribesmen have been freed, the Yemeni official news agency reported Monday.

The Frenchmen landed at a military base in San`a and were met by Yemeni Interior Minister Rashad al-Aleem.

The four men, captured more than two weeks ago in Shabwa province, southeast of the capital San'a, were transported by military helicopter to the base, where French diplomats were at hand to receive them.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy spoke to journalists in Paris Monday about the release of the four, but gave few additional details.

"To my knowledge, they are in good health," Douste-Blazy said.

Provincial officials said Sept. 12 that a doctor was sent to the kidnappers hideout to attend to one of the hostages, who reportedly suffers from a heart condition.

CountryWatch: Yemen

Awad Ibnawazeer, a lawmaker mediating to secure the hostages' freedom, told The Associated Press, "After hard and tiring negotiations throughout the night, an agreement was reached to free the hostages."

Almulla Zabara, a leader in the Al-Abdullah tribe that seized the four men and their Yemeni translator a week ago, told the AP that the tribe had won concessions from the government for the release of the hostages.

Zabara expected that five people from his tribe , now held at a military camp in Abdyan, where the family has been prevented from visiting them, will be moved to a jail in the capital in about four days. He added that hopefully following Ramadan, which ends in late October, they will be released.

But a report by the official news agency said that security and armed forces had surrounded the area where the kidnappers were believed be hiding and were pursuing them to "bring them to justice."

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The SABA report emphasized that force was not used to secure the hostages' freedom.

It named the suspected kidnappers as Salem al-Aswad, Rajih Hadi, Haithem Hadi, Mohammed Abdullah, and Ali al-Aswad.

The four French tourists were kidnapped Sept. 10 in Shabwa province, as they were headed south to the port city of Aden in a convoy of tourists.

Ibnalwazeer, a legislator who is also the chief of Yemen's influential al-Awaleq tribe, last year participated in negotiations that led to the freeing of a former German diplomat and his family.

On the deal to secure the hostages' freedom, he said the kidnappers' demands for the release of some of their relatives from prison would be discussed by the government officials.

The incident is the latest in a long series of kidnappings by tribesman to win concessions from the Yemeni government.

Yemen's leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh won in elections Sept. 20, lengthening his 28 years in the job by an additional seven. He 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.