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European Hostages Still Held in Egypt; Kidnappers Unknown

Conflicting reports on the identity of the group that kidnapped 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians in Egypt's Western Desert on Friday continued to circulate Wednesday, Sept. 24.

A section of the eastern Egyptian desert

The group was seized in a remote Egyptian region marked by barren and rugged terrain

An Egyptian government spokesman said the kidnappers were from Djibouti, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported.

But other Egyptian officials were being quoted as saying one of the kidnappers came from Chad, while his three accomplices came from Sudan.

The Al-Jazeera news channel, meanwhile, quoted unnamed Egyptian officials as having said the group was from Chad. An official at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the kidnappers were all Egyptians.

The 19 went missing while visiting the remote scenic Gilf Kebir area close to Egypt's borders with Libya, Chad and Sudan.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Steinmeier, like his Italian counterparts, denied ransom rumors

Five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian were among them.

Various sources have been quoted in media reports as saying German and Italian authorities were negotiating with the kidnappers.

Ransom negotiations denied

But while the two governments have confirmed they are monitoring the situation, they have declined to confirm further conflicting reports of ongoing negotiations, reportedly involving a ransom demand of between $6 million and $15 million (4-10.2 million euros).

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, declined to say whether the German government was involved in release negotiations.

A spokesman for the Italian embassy in Cairo also declined to confirm the existence of negotiations.

Sudanese authorities said on Tuesday that they had located the hostages.

Hostages located

"They are now in an area of no-man's land between the Sudanese, Libyan and Egyptian border, in the area of Jebel Uweinat," Sudanese foreign ministry undersecretary Mutrief Sadiq told journalists in Khartoum.

Map of Egypt

The region in southern Egypt, bordering Libya and Sudan, where the tourists were seized

"Their position has been pinpointed and there is coordination between Sudanese and Egyptian authorities in this regard.

"From our point of view the security of the hostages is the absolute priority -- we do not want an operation that harms hostages," Sadiq said.

Asked whether an operation was being planned, he said: "We are coordinating."

The Egyptian embassy in Berlin had said four masked and armed men, believed to be mountain nomads, attacked and seized the four off-road vehicles in which the tourists were traveling while on a desert safari in Egypt's remote southwest.

Hostages in "good health"

Egyptian Tourism Minister Zuhair Garana said earlier Tuesday that the group was in "very good health."

"We have very sure and reliable information that everyone is fine. They are in very good health and they have enough food and water. They have not been badly treated," he said.

"We are going to continue our efforts to release the hostages and we will do that until this unfortunate incident is completely resolved."

"This is an act of banditry, not of terrorism," the Egyptian Tourism Ministry said in a statement Monday.

Egypt has witnessed a number of deadly attacks in recent years targeting foreigners at major tourist sites which have been blamed on al Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

The most recent attacks occurred between 2004 and 2006 in popular Red Sea resorts in the Sinai.

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