Tribal sheikhs release Swiss nationals [Archives:2005/897/Local News]

November 24 2005


MARIB- Nov.22- Tribal sheikhs in the Yemeni tribe of Abida, Marib Province managed to persuade a group of kidnappers, led by Mohamed Bin Salim al-Dhimn, to release the Swiss husband under the name of Bayer and his wife Katerina who have been kidnapped for 48 hours.

The group kidnapped the two Swiss nationals while they were on the way to Shabwa, and then released them upon pledges by the tribal sheikhs to free their relative who has been arrested in the capital city of Sana'a for chewing qat during daytime in the fasting month of Ramadan.

According to a security source, the man was detained for being suspected of car robbery.

One of the Swiss hostages confirmed that they were being treated well by their kidnappers.

The Swiss government on Monday said the couple had been freed, based on information obtained from the Yemeni authorities by Swiss diplomats in the region.

“The Swiss couple, abducted in Yemen, has been freed. Both are safe and well,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Berne said in a statement on its website.

But Mohamed al-Dhimn, leader of tribesmen holding the pair, said he was still in possession of the Swiss tourists and that demands that his imprisoned brother be released by Yemeni officials had not been met.

“My brother is still being held by authorities, and the tourists are still here. They are sleeping now,” al-Dhimn told Reuters by telephone.

A Yemeni official said he had no information about the hostages being freed.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Both victims were seized early on Monday morning.

“They remain in good health,” the Yemeni Interior Ministry said. It did not release their names.

“My brother is 30km away and being brought over to us now by authorities. As soon as he is here, I will personally hand over the tourists,” al-Dhaman said by telephone.

Al-Dhimn earlier cautioned that the pair would be killed if the government tried to free them by force.

“I hold the government responsible. If they launch an attack, we will all die together as we are in the same house,” he said. “The two tourists are in good health and being treated well.”

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location in Marib Province, the Swiss man, who refused to identify himself, told swissinfo: “We are being well treated, and are now waiting for the issue to be resolved and refuse to comment any further until we are back in our hotel.”

He said he did not want to reveal his or his wife's identity before they had had a chance to inform their relatives.

They were kidnapped by a local man demanding the release of his teenage brother, who was apparently arrested three weeks ago for chewing the natural stimulant qat during the fasting season of Ramadan.

The kidnapper, who gave his name as Mohamed al-Dhaman, told Swissinfo that his brother stood accused of selling a stolen car and that he had been transferred to a prison in the country's capital, Sana'a.

He said he abducted the Swiss tourists to exert pressure on the provincial authorities.

The Swiss foreign ministry told Swissinfo that its Yemeni consulate was actively trying to secure their release, but that the couple were still being held.

“They are in good health,” confirmed ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, who hoped for a rapid end to the hostage-taking.

A local guide and translator, Amer Al Deen Al Houthi, who is also being held, told swissinfo that the hostage-takers “are good… hospitable and treating us well.

“We have not seen any bad gestures from their side. They are cooperating with the state and they are negotiating with them.”

The kidnapper assured swissinfo that “nothing will happen to the hostages, but we want you to warn the Yemeni authorities that we put the responsibility of what will happen if any troops try to attack us on them”.

The couple was kidnapped while exploring the country as part of a package tour booked through the Zurich travel agency, Holiday Maker.

The owner of the travel agency, Plinio Raselli, told Swissinfo that the company's website did not inform customers of the danger of traveling in Yemen.

“We have been offering Yemen packages for 15 years and this is the first time something like this has ever happened,” said Raselli.

He said he was aware of the explicit warnings against travel to the region published by the Swiss foreign ministry

A Yemeni security source said, “The two hostages will continue their tourist trip in Yemen in spite of what has happened to them”

Tourists have often been seized by armed tribal groups in Yemen, a poor country at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where central government control is weak in many areas. They are usually released unharmed after negotiations.