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Yemen: al-Qaeda might have SA couple

SA govt says it is providing consular services to the couple’s family.

The southern city of Taiz in Yemen. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Reports that a South African couple kidnapped in Yemen are in the hands of al-Qaeda have yet to be confirmed as international affairs struggles to secure their release.

The pair, identified as Pierre and Yolande Korkie from Bloemfontein, were kidnapped by gunmen outside a hotel in the city of Ta'izz nearly two weeks ago.

However media reports on Thursday suggested the pair were being held by al-Qaeda and that negotiations were not going well.

The Department of International Relations' Nelson Kgwete said, "We are in touch with a law enforcement unit in Yemen and we haven't been given information to the effect that the two citizens were kidnapped by representatives of a certain organisation."

Meanwhile, the department said on Tuesday it would not give up on its efforts to ensure the release of the couple.

Kgwete said it was providing consular services to the couple's family.

"We are keeping the family here in South Africa informed about the progress we are making. The family is hopeful the couple will be released soon."

He added that South Africa's ambassador to Saudi Arabia is still in daily meetings with Yemeni officials to negotiate their release.

Media reports suggested that no group or organisation has taken responsibility for the crime, but that the Korkies were kidnapped to pressure government to resolving a land dispute.

The kidnapping is 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.