Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Former German diplomat freed

ABDUCTION A deal in which negotiators had agreed to exchange themselves for a former German foreign minister, his wife and children was abandoned yesterday


Yemeni tribesmen yesterday freed five German tourists, including a former senior diplomat, three days after taking them hostage in a mountainous area of eastern Yemen.

Government sources told reporters that the hostages were delivered to two government negotiators and would be airlifted by an army helicopter to the southern port city of Aden.

In Berlin, the release was confirmed by the German Foreign Office, which said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would be making a statement in the course of yesterday afternoon.

Abdullah al-Qadhi, secretary of the Shabwa regional governor, said the hostages -- former German deputy foreign minister Juergen Chrobog, 65, his wife, Majda, and their three adult sons -- were handed over to Colonel Aziz Melfi and legislator Awadh Muhammad al-Wazir. Also freed were two Yemeni drivers and a travel guide.

They were snatched by armed men from the al-Abdallah tribe of the Shabwa province during a trip from Aden on Wednesday. The kidnappers had raided a restaurant on a highway linking Shabwa with Aden.

The two officials involved in the release had been sent by President Ali Abdullah Saleh earlier in the day to Shabwa, some 460km east Sana'a, to help solve difficulties hampering a release deal hammered out on Friday by government and tribal leaders.

Tribal sources said later the release was secured through a deal struck late on Friday between tribal and government negotiators, after the kidnappers eased their demands.

The deal provided that the hostages should be freed soon and authorities would work for the arrest of five men from a rival tribe involved in a dispute with the kidnappers' al-Abdallah tribe.

The agreement also provided for the transfer of the five al-Abdallahs detained by police in the eastern province of Abyan to Sana'a within 72 hours.

Initially a handful of young clansmen, including the abductors, refused to accept guarantees presented by the tribal mediators, causing a delay in the release of the hostages. The kidnappers had at first insisted on the release of their five clansmen.

It was the fourth abduction of Westerners this year in Yemen, a poor country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Last week, two Austrian tourists were abducted by armed tribesmen in the northeastern province of Marib and released unharmed three days later.

Armed tribesmen from impoverished areas often take hostages and use them as bargaining chips with the government to press for aid, jobs or the release of detained clansmen.

Most of the hostages have been released unharmed. However, in 1998 an Islamic militant group kidnapped 16 Western tourists, four of whom died in a botched rescue attempt by police forces.

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