Last updated: 26 January, 2014

Talks to free South African hostage in Yemen collapse

A group attempting to secure the release of an ailing South African man kidnapped in Yemen by Al-Qaeda said Sunday talks to free the teacher have collapsed.

Kidnappers are demanding $3 million (2.2 million euros) for the release of Pierre Korkie, who has been held since May last year.

“We have a major problem,” admitted Imtiaz Sooliman, chairman of South African-based disaster-relief charity Gift of the Givers, which has been engaged in protracted negotiations with the hostage takers.

“Talks between us and Al-Qaeda have virtually broken down completely as they don’t trust us anymore,” he said in a statement.

South African deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim recently travelled to Yemen and made a television appeal for Korkie’s release.

But that visit appears only to have worsened the situation as the kidnappers believed the minister was bringing the ransom cash and now suspect the money has been “stolen”.

Gift of the Givers, a non-governmental organisation, said it was urgently pulling its negotiator, Anas al-Hamati, a Yemeni national, from the country for his own safety.

Sooliman said that Al-Qaeda had accused the charity of lying, claiming that “no government sends a high level minister to a country where their citizen is taken hostage,”, announces it to the media but then does not “bring any ransom money”.

Korkie, a 56-year-old English teacher who is suffering from a hernia, was abducted along with his wife last May in the Yemeni city of Taiz by members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Korkie’s wife Yolande was freed on January 10 and has since returned to South Africa to fight for his release.

The couple had lived and worked in Yemen for four years.

An initial deadline of January 17 had been set for the ransom to be paid, but that was later extended by three weeks.

The hostage takers last week sent the negotiators a fresh ransom demand via SMS and the message was accompanied by “a picture of a bomb belt,” said Sooliman.