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World - Middle East

16 Western tourists reported kidnapped in Yemen

graphic

December 28, 1998
Web posted at: 6:07 p.m. EST (2307 GMT)

SANAA, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni tribesmen kidnapped 16 Western tourists on Monday, including 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians, tribal leaders and security officials said.

They said about 10 armed tribesmen opened fire on police officers escorting a group of tourists as they traveled in a convoy near the southern town of Mawdiyah, in Abyan province.

No one was injured in the firefight. A British tourist and a Yemeni guide managed to escape, the tribal leaders said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The remaining 16 tourists were abducted and were said to have been driven to an area called al-Wadea'a in Abyan, 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Sanaa, in one of the largest single kidnappings in the country.

The United States confirmed the kidnapping reports and said Washington had been in touch with the Yemeni Interior Ministry.

"They assured us this would receive the highest possible priority," Acting State Department Spokesman Lee McClenny said.

Tribesmen often kidnap citizens of other countries to press the government and oil companies working in the country to meet demands such as improving infrastructure in tribal areas.

In August, President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued a decree imposing the death penalty for kidnappings in an attempt to stop the practice.

More than 100 people, including several diplomats and oil workers, have been abducted since 1992. But most have been released unharmed.

The kidnappings pose a threat to Yemen's tourism industry, which has become a growing source of income and generated revenues of more than $100 million last year alone.

On Saturday, disgruntled tribesmen blew up Yemen's main oil pipeline but the extent of the damage and the effect on output was unclear.

Earlier this month, four German tourists were kidnapped and are still being held in Marib province, east of the capital.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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