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Swiss still held hostage in Yemen

Yemeni security forces patrol a street of the capital, Sana'a

(Keystone)

A Swiss couple kidnapped in Yemen earlier on Monday told swissinfo that they are still being held hostage, despite reports of their release.

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

The married Swiss couple were travelling through Maarib province on a package tour with a local guide and driver when they were kidnapped.

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location in Maarib 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 khat during the fasting season of Ramadan.

The kidnapper, who gave his name as Hasan Hamad Salem Al Thamen, 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.

"Hospitable"

A local guide and translator, Amer Al Deen Al Hawthy, 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 were 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 travelling 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.

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.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel and Elham Manea

Key facts

The Swiss foreign ministry recommends avoiding trips to Yemen because of ongoing unrest.
Foreign tourists have been regularly kidnapped for ransom or to obtain the release of prisoners.
The Swiss travel agency, Holiday Maker, where the kidnapped couple booked their trip, sends 30-50 customers a year to Yemen.

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