By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Three Red Cross workers and two Egyptian technicians who were abducted by armed men in Yemen's southern province of Abyan have all been released, Yemeni security officials said Thursday.
The three staffers from the International Committee of the Red Cross had been held since Monday morning, when armed men stopped their ICRC-marked vehicle in the vicinity of Jaar, near the southern port city of Aden, the ICRC said in Geneva.
The three — two international staff and a locally hired employee — were on their way back from a field trip.
The two Egyptians were kidnapped a week earlier by the same tribe in an area north of Jaar, the Yemeni officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The officials said the kidnappers were demanding the release of one of their relatives who is accused in a murder case dating back more than a year ago.
Tribal mediation facilitated the release of the abducted, the officials said, without elaborating.
Cedric Schweizer, who heads the ICRC delegation in Yemen, said the Red Cross workers were now safely back in Aden but did not provide more specifics on the identities of the three, their kidnappers or details on how the release came about.
"We are relieved and extremely happy to have our colleagues back with us," Schweizer said, and thanked "all those who gave us their support unconditionally with the aim of getting our colleagues back safe and sound."
The Egyptians were also safe in Aden, the officials said.
Kidnapping of foreigners by tribesmen is frequent in Yemen, where hostages are used as bargaining chips to secure the release of Yemeni prisoners or to get cash. But in rare cases, the kidnappers sell their captives to al-Qaida, which then demands ransoms.
Yemen's President Abded Rabbo Mansour Hadi warned last week that the al-Qaida branch in the country was expanding and using assassinations and abductions of foreigners as a way to challenge the central authority.
ICRC has been operating in Yemen since 1962, delivering aid for civilians affected by conflicts in the impoverished Arab nation that has struggled to beat back al-Qaida militants and the country's political divisions.
The Geneva-based humanitarian organization has more than 200 staff in the country, including 50 international employees, working in Sanaa, Aden, Saada, Amran and Taiz. They provide health care, deliver relief assistance and work to improve water supplies.
In Jaar, ICRC has a surgical team providing support to the surgical unit of a general hospital. ICRC delegates also visit detainees and help Yemeni families keep in touch with loved ones detained abroad.
Associated Press Writer John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva.