Three Hostages Released, Two Still Missing after Kidnapping in Yemen

Tribesmen seized five Italian tourists Sunday, but released three female hostages after a government negotiator convinced the kidnappers that abducting women violated tribal values, Yemeni officials said.

Sheik Darham al-Damaa, secretary-general of a government council in Marib Province, said negotiations were continuing for the release of the two Italian men, according to the Web site of Yemen's ruling party.

The kidnapping came a day after the government negotiated the release of a family of five Germans who also were taken hostage while on vacation. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged Sunday to hunt down "outlaws" who kidnap foreigners.

Tribesmen frequently grab tourists in an attempt to force concessions from the government in this poor, mountainous nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Hostages are usually released unharmed, but several were killed in 2000 during a botched police raid to free them.

Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters, told The Associated Press that the Italians' kidnappers were members of a tribe responsible for past kidnappings of foreigners and Yemenis.

The kidnappers have demanded the release of eight fellow members of the al-Zaydi tribe, one of whom faces murder charges and was extradited to Yemen from the United Arab Emirates.

One of the negotiators who won the release of the three Italian women also met with the two male hostages and found them in good health, the ruling party Web site said.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it could not confirm that the three women had been freed.

The five Italians were seized in the Sirwah region of Marib Province, in the rugged mountains about 75 miles northeast of the capital, San'a. Their names were not released.

The Foreign Ministry said that it was pushing for the hostages' release, and working to monitor the estimated 100 other Italians in Yemen.

"The ministry has long recommended against tourism in the tribal areas of the country," it said.

On Saturday, a German family and three Yemeni guides were released by kidnappers in eastern Yemen who also were seeking to pressure the government into releasing detained members of their tribe.

The hostages — a former German deputy foreign minister, his wife, three children and the three Yemenis — were let go after the government said it would negotiate with the kidnappers about their demands.

Juergen Chrobog, the former German deputy foreign minister, said in an interview made available Sunday that his captors at first did not know who he was.

"They only learned it when it ran on television," Chrobog told the German newspaper Tagespiegel. "Then they said to me, you can get prisoners released."

Saleh ordered his security forces Sunday to arrest the abductors of the Germans, who were taken Wednesday on a remote mountain road in eastern Yemen, where they were vacationing.

"They are outlaws and they will be followed," Saleh said. "We will fight hostage taking like we fight terrorism."

He also issued a presidential decree appointing new governors and security chiefs for Marib and Shabwa provinces, where the hostages were taken. The decree, read on state television, did not specify reasons for the changes.