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5 arrested, SA pair still missing in Yemen

The whereabouts of the abducted pair is still unknown at this stage.

The southern city of Taiz in Yemen. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - At least five people have been arrested in connection with the abduction of two South Africans in Yemen.

But the whereabouts of the pair, who were kidnapped in the city of Taiz earlier this week, is still unknown at this stage. It is believed they were involved in a hotel development deal which turned sour.

A Yemeni lawmaker has denied any involvement in the kidnapping.

South Africa's ambassador to Saudi Arabia flew to Yemen on Tuesday night to try and secure the pair's release.

The International Relations Department's Nelson Kgwete said: "We understand they are still being held captive and that is why we [have sent] our ambassador to facilitate the process of their release."

Earlier, the department had to confirm if the kidnapped pair were indeed South African.

Monday's kidnapping was the latest attack targeting foreigners in the impoverished Arab state, where the government is struggling to restore law and order since a power transfer deal in late 2011 saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh hand over to his deputy following months of pro-democracy protests.

An Interior Ministry source added that the kidnappers had apparently mistaken the South African pair for Europeans or Americans but gave no further details on what they were doing in Yemen.

Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen is common, often carried out by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to press the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services, or by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda.

Earlier this month, tribesmen briefly kidnapped three employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross - a Swiss, a Kenyan and a Yemen -- in the southern province of Abyan but freed them three days later.

Yemen has been grappling with an Islamist insurgency, a separatist movement in the southern part of the country and a spate of attacks by gunmen on power stations, electric grids and oil pipelines since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected for a two-year interim period in 2013 after Saleh stepped down.

Lawlessness in the poor Arabian Peninsula state has alarmed neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil exporter, as well as the United States, which increasingly views Yemen as a frontline is its struggle against al Qaeda.

(Additional reporting by Reuters)