3 French aid workers freed in Yemen

November 14, 2011 - 5:30 AM

PARIS (AP) — Three French aid workers kidnapped in Yemen and held by al-Qaida militants have been freed with the help of the sultan of Oman after nearly six months in captivity, the French president's office said Monday.

Kidnappers linked to al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen had demanded a $12 million ransom for the three, security officials and local tribesmen said earlier this year.

A senior Yemeni tribal mediator said Monday that Oman and Yemeni tribesmen mediated the release, and that a helicopter carried the hostages from the southern Yemeni city of Shabwa — a hotbed of Islamic militants — to Oman late Sunday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. He didn't give further details.

The statement from Nicolas Sarkozy's office announcing the release provides no details of what happened. French authorities insist the government does not pay ransoms.

Sarkozy "warmly thanks the sultan of Oman and the Oman authorities for their decisive help, as well as all those who contributed to this happy outcome," the statement said, without elaborating.

The two women and one man from the aid group Triangle Generation Humanitaire were abducted May 28 in eastern Yemen's Hadramawt province, which is home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The aid group, based in Lyon, France, could not be reached for comment Monday on the release. The group works on improving water supplies and farming infrastructure among other activities in Yemen.

Security in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has unraveled since an uprising nine months ago against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 30 years. Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken control of entire towns in the country's restive south.

Abdu al-Janadi, a Yemeni government spokesman, told reporters on Sunday the hostages were held by al-Qaida militants in Shabwa and that the abductors threatened to kill the hostages if the Yemeni government didn't pay a ransom by the end of the week.

Yemeni government forces and allied tribesmen killed 10 militants in attacks around the country Sunday, security officials said. A visiting U.N. envoy met with Saleh to push for a solution to the country's political crisis.

Kidnappings are common in Yemen, where tribesmen use abductions to try to force concessions from the government, such as the release of fellow tribesmen in prison.

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Associated Press writer Jamal Al-Jashini in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.