Two Britons kidnapped in Yemen

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The Independent Online
TWO BRITONS and a Dutch family of four, including two small children, have been kidnapped in the Yemen by an armed gang in the latest hostage crisis involving Western nationals in the country.

They were abducted at gun point while travelling in the north of the country between the capital Sanaa and the town of Sadah, where the Dutch couple worked for an aid agency in the local hospital.

The party was travelling in three cars when they were stopped near Hawf, in Imran province, about 90 miles north of Sanaa. According to elders of the Hashid tribe the gunmen are local tribesmen and are not Islamic militants.

The incident comes just days after a British oil worker John Brooke was freed by armed tribesmen amid rumours of the payment of a ransom. Last night Middle-East experts said a payment may have sparked the latest kidnappings.

Three Britons and an Australian were killed in a gunfight between their Islamic fundamentalist captors and government security forces two weeks before Mr Brooke's kidnapping.

The British government criticised the Yemeni authorities for the botched rescue attempt which cost the lives of Britons Dr Peter Rowe, Margaret Whitehouse and Ruth Williamson.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, said the reports of the Brooke ransom "encouraged other tribes to go ahead with the same thing". Dozens of Western tourists have been held captive in Yemen in the past and released after payment.

British diplomats were last night believed to be heading for the region to begin negotiations with the captors. A Foreign Office spokesman said that the motives and the identity of the kidnappers remained unclear. Efforts were being made to contact the families of the British kidnap victims.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said it was holding consultations with the Yemeni government.

Five Britons and a man using a French passport are under arrest in Yemen accused of being sent from the UK to start an Islamic extremist guerrilla campaign there - accusations which have been denied by the men's families in this country.

Last night Mr Brooke, 46, said at his home in Norwich: "If the kidnappings took place in the north of the country the chances are it is not Muslim fundamentalists." He said after the fatalities of the last rescue attempt it would be unlikely the Yemeni government would seek to mount another such mission.

Mr Brooke added: "I feel pretty confident these people will be OK. It may take a couple of weeks, I got out quickly. I wish them all the best but they have to remain calm and patient.

"It is not a culture you are used to. But they practically try to shove food down your throat and they give you blankets to keep warm and make sure you aren't thirsty."

Meanwhile, the father of one of the five Britons being held in Yemen has seen him in a police cell. Malik Nassar Harhra, 26, saw his father for only a few minutes. But the British consul in Aden, David Pearce, criticised the Yemeni government for not allowing the prisoners' Yemeni lawyer to speak to them in private.