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Tribesmen free couple kidnapped in Yemen

A DUTCH couple held for two weeks by armed Yemeni tribesmen were freed after Yemen's government had paid a ransom of US$350,000, a tribal leader claimed yesterday.

But the government denied paying the money or meeting any demands and said it was searching for the kidnappers among the Serag tribe in a mountainous region east of the capital, San'a.

Tribesmen armed with assault rifles seized the couple from their car in the capital on March 31 and took them to the mountainous area about 70 kilometers to the east.

Powerful tribes in the impoverished country have used the abductions of foreigners - either tourists or those living or working in the country - to pressure the Yemeni government to meet demands, often to free clan members from jail. In most cases the kidnappings are resolved and hostages freed unharmed.

Foreigners in Yemen have also been targeted by Islamic militants. Yemen, on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaida loyalists are active in the country despite crackdowns by the government.

After being freed, Heleen Janszen and her husband, Jan Hoogendoorn, were taken to the Dutch ambassador's home in the capital. There they told reporters that they did not feel their lives were threatened and that they had been treated well.

The couple from Deventer have lived for three years in San'a, where Hoogendoorn works for a water company. They said they planned to continue living in Yemen.

The couple said one of their kidnappers was wearing a military uniform. They said they were forced to wear traditional Yemeni clothing, including head scarves, when they were taken from the city.


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