Swiss tourists freed in Yemen

Yemen has suffered from tribal unrest for many years, causing major security problems Keystone

The release of two Swiss tourists abducted in Yemen by a local tribal leader has been confirmed by the Swiss foreign ministry and the kidnapper.

This content was published on November 22, 2005 - 10:56

The foreign ministry added on Tuesday that the couple were in good health.

The kidnapper, Hasan Hamad Salem Al Thamen, told swissinfo on Tuesday he had released the couple after receiving a promise from Yemeni officials to look into the case of his imprisoned brother.

"The problem was solved because of the mediation of the senior Maarib sheiks," he said. "They reached [a deal] that if we handed them the tourists, they assured me that they will find a solution [for the case of my brother]."

"I handed the tourists to the mediators an hour ago and they took them to the governor of Maarib," he added.

The Swiss foreign ministry welcomed the couple's release in a statement.

"Our two fellow citizens confirmed to our ambassador in Riyadh that they are in good health," ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat told swissinfo.

"They were not mistreated and are now recovering."

Jeannerat said the Swiss authorities had not taken part directly in the negotiations to get the couple's release. "We worked with the Yemeni authorities as well as our honorary consul and local partners," he added.

There had been some confusion on Monday about the couple's situation. The Swiss embassy in Saudi Arabia had announced they had been released, only for the Swiss foreign ministry to deny this later in the day.

Well treated

Al Thamen and fellow tribesmen kidnapped the two tourists to press for the release of his teenage brother, arrested for allegedly stealing a car, government and tribal sources said.

The married Swiss couple were travelling through Maarib province on a package tour with a local guide and driver when they were kidnapped.Their guide and translator, Amer Al Deen Al Hawthy, who was being held with the two Swiss, told swissinfo on Monday that the hostage-takers had looked after them.

The kidnapper had assured swissinfo that "nothing will happen to the hostages, but we want you to warn the Yemeni authorities that we put the responsibility of what will happen if any troops try to attack us on them".

The couple were kidnapped while exploring the country as part of a package tour booked through the Zurich travel agency, Holiday Maker.

Tourists have often been seized by armed tribal groups in Yemen, a poor country at the tip of the Arabian peninsula where central government control is weak in many areas. Most have been released unharmed after negotiations.


Key facts

The Swiss foreign ministry recommends avoiding trips to Yemen because of ongoing unrest.
Foreign tourists have been regularly kidnapped for ransom or to obtain the release of prisoners.
The Swiss travel agency, Holiday Maker, where the kidnapped couple booked their trip, sends 30-50 customers a year to Yemen.

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