AL-MUKALLA: Armed tribesmen have abducted five UN workers along with their guards in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, the UN and local officials said on Sunday.
A local security official told Arab News that the UN staff, including four Yemenis and a foreigner, escorted by two armed vehicles, were driving through a rural area called Al-Suaida in Abyan’s Moudia district on Friday when a number of armed men stopped their convoy and took them to an unidentified location.
Abyan Gov. Abdu Baker Hussein Salem and security officials called a meeting in Abyan on Sunday to discuss ways to free the workers amid reports that local security services had located the abductors.
On Sunday, the abductors released the guards and their military vehicles but held the UN staffers as bargaining chips for meeting their as yet unknown demands.
“A mediation by local tribal leaders is trying to listen to the abductors’ demands and to convince them to release the UN workers,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
The Yemeni government in Aden said on Saturday that it was aware of the abduction and pledged to secure the workers’ release soon.
Local officials dismissed media reports that Al-Qaeda militants had abducted the workers as the terror group in Yemen had been greatly weakened during the past six years after Yemeni forces, trained and armed by the Arab coalition, expelled it from key cities and areas under its control.
In November, the UN said that two of its staffers were detained by the Iran-backed Houthis and called for their immediate release. The US also accused the Houthis of abducting many Yemenis who were working at its embassy in Sanaa.
Separately, heavy fighting between government troops and the Houthis intensified inside the northern city of Haradh amid sustained airstrikes by the Arab coalition’s warplanes.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that dozens of Houthis were killed in an ambush by government troops as the group intensified counterattacks to seize back areas in Haradh controlled by loyalists since earlier this month.
Local officials said that the Houthis had mounted numerous attacks on government troops in a bid to recapture parts of the strategic city in the northern province of Hajjah.
The Arab coalition on Sunday announced carrying out 21 air raids in Hajjah that had destroyed 12 Houthi military vehicles.
Hundreds of Houthi fighters and army soldiers have been killed in Haradh since the beginning of February when government forces mounted an offensive to take control of the city.