SANAA, (Reuters) – Two Austrian tourists held by Yemeni tribesmen could be freed soon as negotiations with the kidnappers are going well, a Yemeni official said on Thursday.
"We expect them to be freed today," Abdullah al-Nassi, governor of the mountainous Marib province, where the two tourists were seized on Wednesday, told reporters.
The negotiations were being conducted through senior tribesmen, officials said.
In Vienna, an Austrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman could not confirm that the hostages were Austrian citizens and said the government would not take part in the negotiations until their nationality had been established.
Yemeni security sources said the kidnappers, from the Abidah tribe, captured the tourists to press the government to release fellow tribesmen jailed while trying to go to Iraq to fight U.S. forces there.
It was not clear if the jailed tribesmen were linked to Islamist groups such as al Qaeda, which is waging an insurgency in Iraq and which has sympathisers in Yemen.
Yemen opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq in 2003 and many Yemenis are angry at what they consider to be U.S. occupation of Arab land.
Armed tribal groups in Yemen, a poor country at the tip of the Arabian peninsula where central government control is weak in many areas, often seize tourists. They are usually freed unharmed after negotiations.
Last month two Swiss tourists were kidnapped in the same area and were later released unharmed. A tribal leader freed the couple after receiving a promise from Yemeni officials to look into the case of his imprisoned brother.