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Page last updated at 22:48 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 23:48 UK

Japan tourists 'freed in Yemen'

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Two female Japanese tourists kidnapped in Yemen by gunmen have been released after being held for less than a day, a security official has said.

Members of a tribe had seized the two to press for the release of a relative in government custody, officials said.

Other members of the tribe mediated the tourists' release. They were seized as they visited Maarib, 176km (109 miles) east of the capital Sanaa.

There have been many kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen in recent years.

Most have been seized and released unharmed by tribespeople demanding better services from the government or the release of prisoners.

The two Japanese women were part of a group of five tourists but were separated from them by the gunmen, who then sped off with them in a car, a provincial official said earlier.

A soldier guarding the old Maarib dam, a popular tourist site, was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the kidnappers, the official added.

Unrest

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to crack down on abductions of foreigners, in a bid to boost tourism to the poor country.

The mainly Sunni Muslim country faces unrest on several fronts: a Shia uprising in the north, disaffection from southerners who lost a civil war in the 1990s, and occasional attacks blamed on al-Qaeda militants.

US special forces have been helping the government fight the Islamist militants.

Three policemen were killed in a bombing at a checkpoint in Maarib in April.

Two Belgian tourists and their guide were killed in an ambush as they drove through eastern Yemen in January.

Seven Spanish tourists and their two local drivers were killed in a suicide car bombing in July 2007.

The government blamed al-Qaeda militants for these two attacks on foreigners.


SEE ALSO
Bid to salvage Shia-Yemen truce
04 May 08 |  Middle East
Deadly blast strikes Yemen mosque
02 May 08 |  Middle East
Country profile: Yemen
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles


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