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Officials Hope to Free Hostages in Yemen Soon

DW staff (sp)December 29, 2005

Yemeni authorities say they are hopeful of a speedy release of a kidnapped former high-ranking German official and his family seized by tribesmen in the eastern part of the country.

Jürgen Chrobog and his family are being held by tribesmen in YemenImage: dpa - Bildfunk

Yemeni negotiators indicated on Thursday that Jürgen Chrobog, his wife and three sons would be freed soon.

"They will be freed safely and soon," a government official told Reuters, adding that authorities were still in contact with the al-Abdullah tribe which the kidnappers belong to.

Sana Hauptstadt von Jemen
The tribesman want to pressure the government in Sana to release prisonersImage: AP

The family of five was abducted from a restaurant on the road to the southern port city of Aden in the Shabwa region, 480 kilometers (300 miles) east of the capital Sana, Yemeni authorities confirmed.

No politically-motived act

Reports said Chrobog and his family were guests of the Yemeni junior foreign minister, who is a former ambassador to Germany. Authorities have ruled out a politically-motivated kidnapping.

One of the kidnappers told Reuters on Wednesday that the lives of the family -- captured to put pressure on Sana to release five tribesmen in jail on criminal charges including murder -- would be at risk if Yemen used force to free them.

The Yemeni interior ministry is reported to know where the kidnappers are holding the hostages, and have said the area will be sealed off by security forces by Thursday afternoon.

Hostages said to be well

German authorities confirmed the disappearance of Chrobog --who served as German ambassador to the United States from 1995 to 2001 -- and his family in Yemen late Wednesday, but initially declined to say whether they had been kidnapped.

The German government was in touch with all the relevant authorities in Yemen and were hoping for a swift release of Chrobog and his family, said foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jäger in Berlin. The government has set up an emergency task force.

"We will concentrate all our efforts on bringing this family back to security as soon as possible," he said.

Chrobog was expected to be freed by the afternoon, German public television broadcaster ARD reported Thursday, without naming any sources. A Middle East correspondent for the broadcaster said he had personally spoken to Chrobog and his family and confirmed they were well.

A gifted crisis manager himself

Chrobog, 65, served as deputy foreign ministry under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and was seen as a gifted crisis manager.

Ironically, he helped secure the release of 14 German tourists taken hostage in Mali in August 2003.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Chrobog traveled to Pakistan to negotiate the release of aid workers from the organization Shelter Now who were held in Taliban prisons in Afghanistan.

As is customary in Yemen's bandit-ridden region, the German tourists had been given soldiers to accompany their convoy of two vehicles, but the kidnappers were took advantage of the break for a meal to take the family hostage.

A matter of hours or days, says tour group

"They have been getting things to eat and to drink, more than what you might expect," said a representative from the local tour agency Abu Taleb Group (ATG), a partner of the German Studiosus group. "This is an affair of hours, at most days."

It was the fourth abduction of foreign tourists in Yemen this year.

Jemen - Shibam - Chicago der Wüste
Tourists visiting remote areas of Yemen are particularly at riskImage: dpa Bilderdienste

Last week, two Austrian tourists were held hostage for three days in the eastern Maarib region. In November, two Swiss holidaymakers were briefly held by tribesmen in the same area. And in August, three Spaniards were abducted in the south before being released unharmed.

Despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries and more than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in the past decade.

Nearly all of the kidnappings have been carried out by tribesmen seeking to put pressure on the central government and the hostages have generally been released unharmed.

But in December 1998, three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants were killed when security forces stormed their hideout.