German and British hostages 'located'

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Germany's foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, announced during a surprise visit to Yemen yesterday that officials had told him they knew where five Germans and a Briton were being held hostage following their abduction in the country's northern Saada region seven months ago.

Mr Westerwelle was the first Western minister to visit Yemen since a local al-Qa'ida group said it was behind the attempt to blow up a US airliner over Detroit last month. He held talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and demanded, "very firmly" according to German sources, that more be done to combat terrorism in the region.

After the meeting, he told reporters: "The President told me he has new information, a bit over two hours old, that the site where the German citizens are being held is known." He added: "If there is new information, if the government of Yemen thinks it knows where they are, we welcome it."

The Yemeni claims have been met with scepticism in Germany. The adult hostages all worked at a local hospital in northern Yemen and were kidnapped while on a picnic in June last year. The Yemeni government has blamed a local Shia rebel group for their abduction, but the group has denied any involvement.

One local tribal leader in the region where the hostages were abducted claimed yesterday that al-Qa'ida was behind the kidnapping. Two German Bible students and a South Korean aid worker, who were also taken hostage, were found dead later in June. However last week Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister announced that all six remaining hostage were alive.