Kidnapped NDI driver released after nearly 30 days in captivityDimitroff: This incident hasn’t shaken NDI’s strong relationship with the tribes [Archives:2008/1173/Local News]

July 17 2008

SANA'A, July 15 ) After almost 30 days of captivity, tribal mediations led by several sheikhs from Marib and Al-Jawf governorates have succeeded in releasing a driver working for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs Yemen.

The driver, Saleh Wardan, was brought back to NDI's offices in Sana'a via the mediation of Sheikh Ali bin Saleh Shutaif and Sheikh Sultan Al-Aradah.

NCI Country Director Peter Dimitroff praised the efforts of the sheikhs from Marib and Al-Jawf, as well as other prominent tribal leaders who offered NDI their assistance in releasing the kidnapped driver.

“We were confident that Wardan wasn't being mistreated and eventually would be freed,” Dimitroff stated, “however the length of his captivity was a source of concern for us.”

He continued, “Through our Conflict Management Program, NDI has spent nearly three years operating in Marib, Al-Jawf and Shabwa governorates, during which NDI has worked closely with tribal leaders and social figures, so we were confident that the sheikhs and dignitaries would deal with the incident in an effective manner.”

When asked about the consequences of the kidnapping, Dimitroff emphasized that the incident hasn't shaken NDI's relationship with the tribes. “We listened to the advice of Sheikhs Al-Aradah, Shutaif and Mohammed Abu Lahoum, and it was this advice that eventually resulted in Saleh's release.”

To the contrary, he said the sheikhs' mediation and advice actually has enhanced NDI's trust in the peoples of those governorates, adding that it will strengthen the level of partnership and joint work with tribes in the three governorates.

Dimitroff further hoped that other international organizations and donors operating in Yemen won't be deterred from operating in those governorates because the level of poverty and underdevelopment there is so severe. “These are the exact areas in which the international community must remain active,” he pointed out.

Likewise, Sheikh Shutaif hopes the incident won't affect NDI's operations in Marib, Al-Jawf, and Shabwa, describing the kidnapping as an individual act condemned by honorable tribal customs and traditions.

As he explained, “The kidnappers had a problem that the authorities failed to look at, so they kidnapped Wardan and others to pressure the authorities. However, such individuals are dissidents who neither respect nor represent tribal values.”

NDI's Conflict Management Program Manager Nadwa Al-Dawsari noted that the kidnappers didn't target NDI in particular; rather, “Our driver simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time; this could've happened anywhere in Yemen.”

She further affirmed that the incident won't affect the program's operations in the targeted governorates, adding that, “NDI enjoys respect and good relations with the authorities and tribal leaders as well as social and community leaders in Marib, Al-Jawf and Shabwa.”

As NDI Program Advisor Abdulhakim Al-Ofeiri further explained, “The incident was solely due to a tribal conflict between Bani Al-Harith tribe, to whom our driver was wrongly assumed to belong, and Al-Jidaan tribe, to whom the kidnappers belonged.”

Wardan, the released driver, recounted, “My kidnappers treated me like a guest. Although it was somewhat stressful the first two days due to the unclear reasons for the kidnapping, I was confident that I'd be released once the kidnappers explained that they had abducted me to pressure Bani Al-Harith tribe to resolve their problem, reassuring me that I wouldn't be harmed.” He also expressed his gratitude to the sheikhs who secured his eventual release.