DUBAI,(Reuters) – Yemeni authorities hope to soon secure the release of a former German government minister, his wife and three children, kidnapped by tribesmen in the eastern part of the country, officials said on Thursday.
"We have formed a committee of tribal leaders and government officials to negotiate with the kidnappers. No force will be used to free them," said Ali al-Rassas, governor of Shabwa province.
"They will be freed safely and soon," another official told Reuters. He gave no further details of the negotiations to free former German junior foreign minister Juergen Chrobog and his family.
Yemeni officials say the family was seized by members of the al-Abdullah tribe during a trip to Shabwa from the port city of Aden. The kidnappers are trying to force the Yemen government to free five tribesmen jailed on criminal charges including murder.
The captors said the Germans were in good health. "We are still talking with authorities. The hostages are in an excellent state and they are in good health," one of them told Reuters by telephone.
One of the kidnappers, however, told Reuters on Wednesday that the lives of the family would be at risk if the government used force to free them. Earlier, he had said the Germans” lives were not in danger.
Armed tribal groups in Yemen, a poor country at the tip of the Arabian peninsula where central government control is often weak, seize tourists frequently, but they are usually freed unharmed after negotiations. The al-Abdullah tribe is not known to have been involved in previous kidnappings.
Last week, Yemeni tribesmen seized two Austrians. A month ago, another group of tribesmen captured two Swiss tourists. Both kidnappings were aimed at pressuring the government to free jailed relatives and all tourists were released unharmed after the government said it would look into the captors” demands.
Chrobog, 65, was Germany”s ambassador to the United States from 1995 to 2001. In 2003, he was the top diplomat dealing with Europeans abducted in the Sahara desert and was able to secure the release of 14 hostages, including nine Germans.
Germany”s foreign ministry said the hostages were part of a group who had been touring the country since Saturday.
Elsewhere in Yemen, landslides have destroyed a small village near the capital Sanaa, killing at least 30 people including women and children with dozens more missing, officials said on Thursday.
A Yemeni official said rocks had slid off a mountain late on Wednesday and collapsed into the al-Dhofair village — about 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Sanaa — destroying its 27 houses.
Police cordoned off the area and are searching for survivors.
State news agency Saba said tens of people were injured — some seriously — and have been taken to hospital.
Landslides are rare in Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, but the country is prone to floods in spring and summer.