x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Yemenis protest against kidnappings

Hundreds of Yemenis gather at a government approved demonstration to protest against the abduction of foreigners.

Hundreds of Yemenis protested against the kidnapping this month of nine foreign nationals.
Hundreds of Yemenis protested against the kidnapping this month of nine foreign nationals.

SANA'A // Hundreds of Yemenis protested yesterday to denounce the kidnapping of foreigners. Some government officials, including top security officers, took part in the event, which was organised by the Yemeni Union for Tourism in cooperation with other organisations affiliated with the government. "Kidnapping can damage the country in several ways; it affects the citizens and prevents the country from investments as well as affects the country's relations with others. The overall damage falls on the citizen," said Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, the head of the Yemeni Union for Tourism.

Nine foreign aid workers were kidnapped earlier this month, the latest in a series of kidnappings - usually of tourists - that have plagued the country for years. Three of the foreigners were killed. Mr Saleh, the president's nephew and chief of staff of the interior ministry's central security forces, demanded the government consider the dead hostages as "martyrs of duty". Mr Saleh said the search for the remaining hostages and investigations into the case will continue.

"We are here to present our condolences to the German Embassy and the relatives of the victims. "We are here also to denounce this terrorist incident and all previous terrorist offences. Security forces are still searching the area to find out the hostages and their kidnappers. I do call on the people in Sa'ada to support and co-operate with the security forces to disclose the kidnappers," said Mr Saleh, who led the protest towards the embassy, in the southern part of the capital where security measures around the embassy were increased as the protesters arrived.

Protesters who gathered at the Sabeen parade square waved German and South Korean flags and banners written in German, Arabic and English condemning the kidnappings. "These kidnappers are full of hatred to everything; to their children and their future. They claim they are performing jihad for the sake of God. What kind of jihad are they talking about while they are destroying our country and its development? The government agencies should take stiff measures against kidnappers," said Safa al Watari, a teenager reading a speech from a piece of paper.

Jamal Amer, publisher of Al Wasat, an independent weekly newspaper and a political analyst, said government-backed protests were a signal of the government's weakness. "The state should enact the anti-kidnapping law to address this chronic headache and find out the perpetrators instead of staging protests. The problem is that the law is not enforced because kidnappers are usually released either by tribal pressures on the government or by other abduction to blackmail the government to release prosecuted kidnappers," Mr Amer said.

The kidnapped group - seven Germans, a British engineer and a South Korean teacher - worked at Al Jumhuri hospital in Sa'ada for World Wide Services Foundation, a Dutch Christian relief group. Three days after the nine foreigners disappeared, authorities found three bodies dumped in Nushoor Valley, east of Sa'ada city. The victims were identified as German nurses Rita Stewjab, 25, and Amita Julie, 25, and Korean teacher Youvet Singhum, 22.

Immediately after the incident, officials accused rebels tied to the al Houthi movement in Sa'ada, who have been fighting against the government since 2004, of the abduction and murder. The rebel leader, Abdulmalik al Houthi, denied his group's involvement. According to the German Embassy, there is no news on the fate of the remaining hostages. "There is no news, not the slightest clue," the embassy source said, requesting anonymity.

"What is unusual about this case is that it happened in Sa'ada, which is an area of conflict and the case has been manipulated for political purposes by the government and al Houthis. I believe the government was too hasty in accusing al Houthis and it should have waited until investigations are completed. This has affected the credibility of the government," Mr Amer said. More than 220 abductions were reported countrywide between 1993 and 2009, according to government figures.

The last reported kidnapping of westerners took place in March, when a Dutch couple taken hostage by tribesmen in Sana'a. They forced the government into releasing jailed relatives. Most hostages have been freed unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in a crossfire, and in 1998 four westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from militants who had seized 16 tourists.

According to Nabil al Faqih, the minister of tourism, terrorist activities and kidnapping in 2007 and 2008 have badly affected the tourism sector whose loss reached US$60 million (Dh220m) during this period. "The recent kidnapping has badly affected the tourism agencies, airline companies and that it will take much time to restore confidence in the Yemeni tourism product," Mr al Faqih told the state-run Saba news agency recently.

malqadhi@thenational.ae