Yemen launches operation to free hostages

Yemen launches operation to free hostages
# 18 May 2010 03:52 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Yemeni security forces have launched an operation to release two Chinese oil workers kidnapped by separatist militants, a Defense Ministry website said on Monday, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
The website, quoting the governor of Shabwa province where the men were kidnapped, called on the kidnappers to "quickly release the hostages unconditionally and surrender themselves to security forces." It gave no details of the operation.
A government official told Reuters that negotiations "are still ongoing" but that "at the same time, troops are being prepared to move into the area."
Details over the number of hostages and who employed them have been unclear since the kidnapping on Sunday.
A local official had previously stated that three oil workers had been kidnapped on Sunday, but state media later said two Chinese men were abducted.
The men were working for the Chinese company Sinopec, the Defense Ministry website said. An official had said earlier they worked for a unit of U.S. firm Nabors Industries, which denied the report.
"The ... Chinese workers are employees of a competitor of ours which is a Chinese drilling contractor named ZPEB," said a Houston-based Nabors spokesman. "There is no connection to Nabors whatsoever other than we have two rigs operating in the vicinity."
The kidnappers, believed to part of a separatist group, are demanding compensation for injuries suffered by a group member during clashes with troops in a March demonstration, a local official said.
Kidnappings of foreigners and Yemenis are common in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state. Hostages are used as pawns by disgruntled tribesmen to press demands from authorities.
Most hostages have been freed unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire and in 1998 four Westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from Islamist militants who had seized 16 tourists.
Tensions are rising in southern Yemen as separatist movements calling for re-establishment of the south as an independent state become more active. South and north Yemen united in 1990.
The government, struggling to stabilize a fractious country in which central authority is often weak, faces international pressure to quell domestic conflicts in order to focus on fighting a resurgent al Qaeda.