Gang holding Westerners want jailed clansman freed

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YEMEN HAS promised Britain not to use force to free the latest hostages, two Britons and a Dutch family of four, who areheld by tribesmen seeking the release of an associate in jail.

The Britons and the Dutchman, who was accompanied by his wife and two sons, aged six and seven, were on an aid project working for a Dutch organisation, Worldwide Services. The Foreign Office in London identified the Britonsas Eddie Rosser and his wife, Mary, both in their sixties and from the south ofEngland.

The hostages were taken on Sunday in a mountainous area in the north, about 140km (87 miles) along the main road from the capital, Sanaa, to the city of Saada, where Worldwide Services runs a healthcare project. The area is largely outside government control and is known locally as "kidnap corridor".

Yemeni security sources said no shots were fired when the party's three-car convoy was ambushed. The kidnappers commandeered the cars and drove them to Barat, about 13 miles further north.

The kidnappers, from theBakeel tribe, in addition to trying to get the prisoner released, may have decided on the venture because they believed that a big ransom had been paid by the government for the release of the British oil worker John Brooke, who was freed last week.

The Interior Ministry says it has contacted the office of the leader of the powerful Hashid tribe, Abdullah al-Ahmar, who is also speaker of the parliament. The Hashid tribe controls the region where the smaller Bakeel tribe lives. The Bakeel kidnappers are seeking the release of a tribesman who was detained in November in connection with a murder.

Tribal leaders are often used to secure the release of hostages, of whom more than 150 have been taken in the past five years.

The Foreign Office had earlier asked the Yemeni government not to use armed force to rescue the hostages. In December, three Britons and one Australian were killed when the Yemeni army tried to free 16 hostages in an attack on the camp of the kidnappers, a group of Islamic militants.

Although tribal kidnaps are normally described as being relatively benign, and no hostages have been killed, attacks have sometimes been violent. In one case the driver of a German academic pursued by gunmen was shot dead. In another incident an Italian was shot in the stomach.

A Foreign Office spokesman said that Victor Henderson, the British ambassador to Yemen, was working "very closely with his Dutch colleague and he has also spoken to the Yemeni Interior Minister, Hussein Arab, and will remain in close touch with him". He said that messages had been sent to the Yemeni Prime Minister.

"Both the Yemeni Interior Minister, Hussein Arab, and the Yemeni Prime Minister have told [the British ambassador] that they fully accept the importance of not using force to secure the hostages' release," the spokesman said.

The rising level of tension in Yemen has prompted the British embassy to write to all UK citizens in the country, urging them to consider whether their presence is essential. The families of several diplomats and expatriate workers have already left.