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France asks Yemen to shun force in freeing hostages

Written by: Staff

SANAA, Sep 17 (Reuters) Yemen said French President Jacques Chirac had asked it to avoid any use of force in securing the release of French tourists taken hostage last week.

Yemeni tribesmen snatched four tourists last Sunday and threatened to kill them if their demands that Yemen release jailed relatives were not met. There was no word on any deadline.

''The French president asked us not to use force against captors of French tourists no matter how long it takes (to free them),'' Yemen Interior Minister Rshad al-Alimi told reporters yesterday.

''We know that the kidnapped tourists are in good health, we are sending them food through mediators who are negotiating with the kidnappers to free them,'' Alimi added.

Yemen deployed troops on Monday to try to free the tourists captured in the east of the country.

Scores of holidaymakers and foreigners working in Yemen have been kidnapped over the past decade by tribesmen demanding better schools, roads and services, or the release of prisoners.

Most hostages have been released unharmed.

The latest kidnappings coincide with campaigning for the September 20 presidential and municipal elections.

Yemeni security sources said members of the same tribe had taken hostage, and released, five German tourists last year.

Impoverished Yemen hopes to boost its tourism, but attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants and kidnappings by disgruntled tribesmen have scared off many travellers.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has vowed to crack down on such abductions. Yemen has executed at least two convicted kidnappers so far this year to serve as a deterrent.

Reuters PDS VP0455

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