Colombian hostages released [Archives:2008/1193/Front Page]

September 25 2008

By: Salma Ismail &Alice Hackman
SANA'A, Sept. 23 ) After three days of captivity at the hands of armed tribesmen of the powerful Ba Kazem tribe, Colombian engineers Hector Marin and Rafael Ayala have been released in good health.

The two Colombians, their Yemeni driver Basheer al-Selwi and escort Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani were abducted at gunpoint as they drove to work for the Yemen Liquefied Natural Gas Company (YLNGC) near the Arabian Sea port of Balhaf in the Shabwa governorate on Friday.

The Foreign Ministry of Colombia has confirmed that “the Colombians, identified as Hector Marin and Rafael Ayala, are in good health,” noting that a favorable outcome was achieved through “the good efforts of Spain, a nation that has a permanent diplomatic mission in Yemen.” Colombia does not have diplomatic representation in the country.

The Colombians' release and good health was also confirmed by Yaslam Abu-Sitt, mayor of the Ahwar district in the southern province of Abyan.

Abu-Sitt said the kidnappers handed the two hostages over to Abyan Governor Ahmed al-Maisary after tribal dignitaries mediated a solution to the crisis. The tribal mediators included Oqail Bin Lathaf Al Kazem, according to the Colombian media.

Local sources said that the kidnappers had demanded the release of their relative Ahmed Saeed Awar, detained by police two years ago on charges related to the high jacking of a YLNGC company car. The kidnappers reportedly also demanded the release of a tribe member arrested five months ago in a clash with security forces.

Although, in a statement to the Yemen Times, Ali Al-Ahmadi, governor of Shabwa said that the release of the hostages was carried out without any of the kidnappers being met, Abu-Sitt said the kidnappers received guarantees from government officials that their demands would be met according to Colombian and Spanish media.

Hector Marin, one of the Colombian hostages, called his family in Colombia upon his release. He said that they were kidnapped by six men in a van and taken to the mountains. “We traveled for 5 hours and a half at 120 kilometers per hour not knowing where we were being taken”. Marin said they were taken to a poverty-stricken area, with no water, no electricity and not much food. He reportedly told his wife that he had not been mistreated, but that he had been hungry, not because his captors did not want to give him food, but because there was nothing to eat.

Despite a critical day on Sunday, when negotiations appeared to have reached an impasse and the situation turned violent as the kidnappers threatened to retreat from the negotiation table, he said he was glad to be released.

Rafael Ayala, the second Colombian hostage, confirmed that they were treated well. He also said that the Yemeni government had released several members of the kidnappers' tribe in exchange for their freedom.

Ayala's son, Luis Ayala, said “My father is well; he is shaken, as it was a tough experience, but he is in good health and coming back to Colombia soon”.

Despite this incident, Marin's wife expressed her gratitude to the YLNGC for employing her husband. “Because there is a lot of unemployment in Colombia, the benefits [of working in Yemen] outweigh the risks. We are very grateful to the company”, she said.

Shabwa has been the scene of several kidnappings of foreigners in recent years.

Armed tribesmen from impoverished areas often take hostages to use as bargaining chips to press the government for aid, jobs or the release of detained fellow clansmen.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen since 1991. Almost all were released unharmed after mediation involving tribal leaders.