British couple freed from Yemen kidnap ordeal tribesmen

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The Independent Online
TWO BRITISH aid workers kidnapped in Yemen two weeks ago were released yesterday after tribesmen claimed to have been paid pounds 50,000 to free them.

Eddie and Mary Rosser were freed with a Dutch family of four after prolonged negotiations. The original motive for their kidnapping was a demand by tribesmen that two men arrested for murder in the capital Sanaa be released.

It was not clear yesterday whether the detainees had been released, but tribal leaders said the kidnappers were paid in cash and given four four- wheel-drive vehicles by the Yemeni government as an inducement to free the captives.

Negotiations were previously stalled because the government would not free the alleged murderers who killed a shopkeeper in Sanaa, unless the family of the victim agreed. The authorities in Yemen are under intense pressure to see all kidnap victims free, because the international publicity surrounding hostage-taking is seriously damaging tourism and foreign investment.

Mr Rosser, 61, and his wife, aged 64, from Lechlade, Gloucestershire, are both devout Baptists and are involved in a hospital project run by the Worldwide Service, a charity, in the northern city of Sadah. They were kidnapped on 17 January by members of the Bakhil tribe while travelling on the road to Sanaa with Hans and Berta Koolspri, also aid workers, and their two children.

On being released the British and Dutch families were driven to Sanaa for breakfast at the house of Sheikh Naji bin Abdel-Aziz al-Shayef, the Bakhil leader. Mr and Mrs Rosser later went to the residence of the British ambassador.

Stephen Mason, the Rossers' son-in-law, said his wife, Penny, received a call from her parents after they were freed. "They are in great spirits and very well," he said.

John Watkins, a family friend added: "From all reports they have been extremely well looked after. We have no idea if there have been any deals or what negotiations might have been going on, but to be honest we do not really care."

Tribal kidnappings have become common in Yemen over the past seven years, with more than 100 foreigners being taken hostage, but all were ultimately released unharmed. The first time that kidnap victims were killed was when Islamic militants seized 16 tourists on 28 December last year and killed four of them, including three Britons, as the army closed in.

Kidnappers usually demand social services such as clinics, roads and a better water supply, or the release of prisoners.

Government officials say the kidnaps are almost always settled by cash payments and the provision of four-wheel-drive cars. They also believe that some of the kidnappings have the covert objective of isolating Yemen diplomatically and weakening the central government.

The Foreign Office and the Dutch Foreign Ministry both said they were unaware of any of the kidnappers' demands being met by the government. A Dutch spokesman said: "The negotiations with the abductors have been conducted by the Yemen authorities. We don't feel authorised to make any disclosure about them."

An oil worker from Northern Ireland was kidnapped by tribesmen on Monday but released after a few hours. A German woman and her child are the only foreigners still being held.