KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – Armed tribesmen kidnapped four French tourists in southeastern Yemen on Sunday, the latest in a series of such abductions that have embarrassed the Yemeni government.
The four were seized as they were heading to the southern port city of Aden, said Denis Douveneau, the deputy chief of mission at the French Embassy.
“We received a phone call from one of the hostages and he told us they were being treated well and were healthy, physically and mentally,” the French envoy said.
He said French diplomats were in touch with Yemeni authorities “and we hope we can resolve this issue soon.”
Elderly tribesmen began mediation efforts with the kidnappers, who were demanding the release of at least four fellow tribesmen jailed by the government for more than six months.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has pledged to crack down on kidnapping, a tactic tribesmen frequently employ to win concessions from the government in Yemen, a poor, mountainous nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula where state control in outlying areas is shaky.
While hostages are usually freed unharmed, several were killed in 2000 when Yemeni soldiers carried out a botched raid to free them.
The victims were in a convoy of foreign tourists when armed gunmen from the al-Abdullah tribe blocked the vehicle in which they were riding and took them hostage, according to security officials, who provided the details on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Members of the al-Abdullah tribe also were behind the kidnapping of a former German diplomat and his family in December. Juergen Chrobog, his wife and their three children were released unharmed after being held for three days.
In January, kidnappers abducted five Italian tourists, releasing them unharmed six days later when they were cornered by security forces in the mountains of north Yemen.
According to Yemeni officials and media reports, as many as 325 people were kidnapped between 1991 and 2001. They include 91 French, 80 Germans, 37 Britons, 23 Americans and 22 Dutch.
Yemen was the scene of the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the country allied itself with the U.S. war on terrorism and cracked down on militants.