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Friday, January 1, 1999 Published at 19:33 GMT


UK summons Yemeni ambassador

Kidnappers are believed to be a small Islamic group inside Yemen

The UK Foreign Office has recalled the Yemeni ambassador for a second meeting, showing Britain's continuing displeasure and frustration over conflicting accounts of how four hostages died during a failed rescue attempt in the Middle Eastern state.

Jane Warr reports: The hostages return from their five-day ordeal
The meeting came as the survivors of Tuesday's massacre flew back to Britain after claiming Yemeni officials had forced them to support details of a cover-up of the botched rescue mission.

Yemeni ambassador Dr Hussein al-Amri's meeting at the Foreign Office at 1700 GMT with Minister for Europe Joyce Quin, lasted about 10 minutes, according to a Foreign Office spokeswoman.

She said: "The Yemeni ambassador expressed his regret and his thoughts and condolences were with the families of the victims, but he also stuck to the Yemeni version of events."

The spokeswoman said the UK Government was seriously concerned about certain aspects of the Yemen government's handling of the kidnap incident and it was "very keen" to establish the facts of what happened.

She added: "The main basis of that is the discrepancy of what the hostages have said and what the Yemen authorities have said."

[ image: Laurence Whitehouse: Desperate to leave Yemen]
Laurence Whitehouse: Desperate to leave Yemen
This was the second time in two days that the Yemeni ambassador had been called in to the Foreign Office for a meeting.

On Thursday Dr Hussein al-Amri met a senior official, the director of Middle Eastern Affairs, to be told of British "dissatisfaction" over his government's refusal to co-operate.

Four British detectives and an American FBI team have arrived in Yemen to help establish who was responsible for the killings.

Eight Britons, an Australian and two Americans, who all narrowly escaped death in the bloody climax to their 24-hour kidnap ordeal, were flew home amid the growing diplomatic row and arrived at Gatwick Airport at 1913 GMT.

One of the Britons, Dr Claire Marston, 43, whose husband Dr Peter Rowe was killed along with two other Britons and an Australian in the shoot-out between Yemeni authorities and the kidnappers, was not well enough to fly home.

Dr Marston has been told she will not be well enough to make the journey home before Sunday. One other injured Australian hostage also remains in hospital.

Laurence Whitehouse: "Bullets could have come from anywhere"
The survivors have become increasingly frustrated at the lengthy interrogation by armed police that meant they only left Yemen on Friday morning, some three days after the massacre.

They said senior Yemeni officers had implied that they could not fly home until they had cleared the Yemeni army of blame for the disaster.

Laurence Whitehouse, who saw his wife Margaret shot dead during the rescue mission, was told to change his account to remove any suspicion that Yemeni troops were responsible for the deaths.

A Yemeni secret police colonel instructed him to change his account of his wife's death, he said, removing from the statement his remark that the fatal bullet "could have been anybody's".

[ image:  ]
However, Mr Whitehouse, from Hook in Hampshire, said: "The blame for this disaster, for my wife's death, must lie with the terrorists.

"They took us off a peaceful journey down a road, while we were on holiday ... The terrorists put us in the position that they put us in and they are to blame."

Post mortem examinations have been carried out on all four victims: including Dr Rowe, 60, from County Durham, Ruth Williamson, from Edinburgh, and Andrew Thirsk, an Australian.

'Bullets came from Yemeni soldiers'

Another survivor, retired teacher David Holmes, 64, from Grimsby, said: "The way we have been treated is pitiful. What Mr Whitehouse has been forced to say is complete and utter lies.

"I was standing yards from Margaret when she was killed. There were just two terrorists next to us and I would have seen if they had fired at her. The bullets definitely came from Yemeni soldiers. It's as simple as that.

[ image:  ]
"I filled out a few written answers for the Yemeni secret police, but I kept as quiet as possible during the verbal interrogation. It really was very sinister."

Yemeni officials maintain that troops stormed the kidnappers' desert hideout on Tuesday because the terrorists had begun killing their 16 hostages - a claim disputed by the Britons.

British diplomat David Pearce said the survivors were desperate to get back to the UK.

"They are desperate to get home," he said. "They are desperate to leave Aden, and desperate to get home to their loved ones."

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01 Jan 99 | Middle East
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