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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 14:19 GMT
Western tourists abducted in Iran
A group of Western tourists has been kidnapped in south-eastern Iran.

Iranian Government sources have said there are three missing people, two German and one Irish.

They say the tourists were abducted as they cycled between the city of Bam and Zahedan near the Pakistani border - a notorious drug-smuggling area.

The Irish tourist has been named by the country's Department of Foreign Affairs as Aidan Leahy.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Antje Leendertse said a crisis team had been set up amid indications that Germans may be involved.

It is thought that a ransom has been demanded.

The kidnapping reportedly took place in the Sistan-Baluchistan province several days ago.

The area is on a route used to smuggle opium from Afghanistan to Western Europe.

But kidnappings there, as in the rest of the country, have been rare in recent years.

A number of European tourists were abducted in southern Iran in 1999.

All hostages were eventually freed unharmed, and the convicted kidnappers publicly executed.

Blackmail criticism

The latest report follows widespread criticism of the German Government in August, when it allegedly agreed to pay a ransom to free nine of its nationals in Western Sahara.

They were among a group of 32 European tourists seized by Islamic militants in Algeria between February and March and held captive for months.

One German woman died during the operation to rescue the 15 tourists held longest.

There has been no confirmation that a ransom was paid, but the German media reported that Mali - the poverty-stricken West African state where the hostages were held - stumped up the cash and would be recompensed by Berlin in foreign aid.

This assumption unleashed a fierce debate in the country as to whether the taxpayer should end up paying for adventure holidays that go horribly wrong.


SEE ALSO:
Sahara hostages asked to pay up
20 Oct 03  |  Europe
Tourists kidnapped in Iran
15 Aug 99  |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
15 Sep 03  |  Country profiles



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