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10 Italians held by Yemen tribes

Rome (Reuters) - Ten Italians, including a nine-year-old boy, have been abducted in two incidents in Yemen, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

A ministry official said a first group of six people was kidnapped in the south of the country on Wednesday while on their way to Al Mukallaa on the Gulf of Aden coast. They had been taken to the interior of Yemen. "We have spoken to one of them and they are well, they are being treated well," the official said.

The group consisted of one family with a nine-year-old son and another with a daughter whose age was not yet known.

Earlier reports from the capital Sanaa had said five or six European tourists, either Germans or Italians, had also been kidnapped by tribesmen while on a tour in the Abyan governate and taken to Shabwa in central Yemen.

The ministry official in Rome said four more Italians were kidnapped near Khamir, some 60 miles north of Sanaa, yesterday morning, but he had no further details.

The incident was the third involving Italians in recent weeks in Yemen, one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

An Italian kidnapped by tribesmen earlier in August was released last Sunday after five days. Two others were abducted in late July and freed after one day.

In March, four German holidaymakers were kidnapped. Earlier that month, seven Germans touring the country on motorcycles were also abducted.

Kidnapping is a common tactic by Yemeni tribes holding grievances against the government or foreign oil firms operating in Yemen. Tribesmen have attempted to use hostages - who have included French and US diplomats and on one occasion the Saudi ambassador - as bargaining chips in land and water disputes.

All hostages have been released unharmed so far. Giorgio Bonanomi, the 49-year-old Italian who was released last Sunday, said he was never afraid and had been treated throughout very well, adding that it was an enjoyable cultural experience.