Fawaz al-Haidari, AFP
Last updated: 24 November, 2011

Kidnapped French aid worker freed in Yemen

A French aid worker kidnapped in Yemen’s restive south was released and arrived in the port city of Aden on Thursday, two days after her abduction, officials said.

“The kidnapped Franco-Moroccan woman is now free and in good health at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Aden,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told AFP.

An ICRC statement said “two International Committee of the Red Cross staff members and a Yemen Red Crescent Society volunteer who had been briefly held by armed individuals in a village in Lahij governorate, southern Yemen, returned to Aden today.”

“This is a moment of relief for us and for the Yemen Red Crescent Society,” said Eric Marclay, who heads the ICRC delegation in Yemen. “I would like to express our gratitude to all those who have contributed to this outcome.”

Gunmen kidnapped the French aid worker, who is of Moroccan origin, on Tuesday along with two Yemenis.

They were on a mission to distribute food rations and household essentials in Lahij and travelling in a Red Cross vehicle, government and security officials said.

Municipal official Hasan Ali told AFP earlier that “the Frenchwoman… was released along with two Yemenis” under a deal between local authorities and the kidnappers mediated by tribal leaders.

Ali said the kidnappers had been assured that activists from the autonomist Southern Movement would be released from government custody once they freed the hostages.

“They received assurances that the prosecution will soon complete their interrogation of four detainees from the southern separatist movement and then set them free,” said Ali, adding that tribal leaders had also intervened.

The ICRC said it remained “in regular contact” with the aid workers during their two-day ordeal.

A source close to the kidnappers had said they seized the three hostages as bargaining chips to press for the release of Southern Movement activists arrested a day earlier in Aden, the south’s former capital.

The Southern Movement campaigns for greater autonomy for the formerly independent south, with its radical wing demanding renewed secession.

But Yemen’s opposition groups, including the Southern Movement, issued a joint statement with the residents of Msaimeer village, where the three were seized, condemning and apologising for the kidnap.

They held the kidnappers and the municipality of Lahij “responsible for what happened,” saying that “kidnapping contradicts the ethics and morals” of the people of Msaimeer.

Yemeni tribesmen have repeatedly kidnapped foreigners for use as bargaining chips in disputes with the authorities. More than 200 foreigners have been seized over the past 15 years, with nearly all freed unharmed.

Earlier this month, three French hostages kidnapped by Al-Qaeda militants arrived home after more than five months in captivity. Tribal sources said a ransom was paid, prompting a denial from Paris.