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 Egypt scours desert for kidnapped tourists

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كاتب الموضوعرسالة

عدد الرسائل : 358
العمر : 25
تاريخ التسجيل : 06/06/2008

مُساهمةموضوع: Egypt scours desert for kidnapped tourists   الثلاثاء سبتمبر 23, 2008 3:22 pm

Date: 9/23/2008 9:03:00 AM

Egypt renewed efforts on Tuesday to free 19 people including European tourists kidnapped in the remote desert and taken to Sudan, after Cairo went back on an official statement that they had been freed.

"Egyptian efforts are ongoing to release the abducted tourists," MENA news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying after Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in New York that all 19 had been freed "safe and sound."

While Egypt is not negotiating directly with the hostage takers, Tourism Minister Zuhair Garana has said they want millions of dollars in ransom.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said that Abul Gheit's words "were inexact," dashing hopes of a swift end to the drama as security forces combed the desert for any trace of the group.

"Information from Egypt indicates that the situation is unchanged," MENA quoted him as saying about the fate of the European tourists and their Egyptian guides, drivers and a guard, snatched at gunpoint in the desert on Friday.

Five Italians and five Germans were among those kidnapped, but the Italian and German embassies in Cairo both said they were trying to confirm reports of the release. A Romanian is also being held.

Abul Gheit said the captives were freed near the Libyan-Sudanese-Egyptian border, after masked gunmen attacked their group of four off-road vehicles in one of the most isolated parts of the Sahara desert on Friday.

The tourism ministry in Egypt -- a nation that relies heavily on earnings from foreign visitors -- stressed that "this is an act of banditry not of terrorism."

"Four masked gunmen attacked four vehicles affiliated to a tourist company. They kidnapped the tourists and led them to the Sudanese lands," MENA quoted the ministry as saying.

Authorities only became aware of the kidnapping when the tour company owner, who is among the missing, used a satellite telephone to call his German wife and tell her of the ransom demand.

The tourism ministry said those snatched were five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian, as well as two Egyptian guides, four drivers, a guard and the tour company owner.

MENA said the tour company operator had called his wife late on Monday to tell her the group was "safe and sound."

German authorities were in touch with the group, Tourism Minister Garana said, adding that they had asked for a ransom of between eight and 15 million dollars.

He said the group was being held in the Karkuk Talh, just across the border in Sudan, having started their safari near Gilf el-Kabir , a rugged and largely uninhabited region on the border with Sudan.

A spokesman for Sudan's Northern State, which borders Egypt and Libya to the north and west and the war-torn Darfur region to the south, told AFP that "until now we have no information about this."

Some of the myriad rebel factions from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, less than 300 kilometres (190 miles) south of the Egypt-Sudan border, have also denied involvement.

The area of the kidnapping is a desert plateau famous for prehistoric cave paintings, including the "Cave of the Swimmers" featured in the 1996 film "The English Patient."

Kidnappings of foreigners are extremely rare in Egypt, although in 2001 an armed Egyptian held four German tourists hostage for three days in Luxor, demanding his estranged wife brings his two sons back from Germany. He freed the hostages unharmed.

Egypt has, however, witnessed a number of deadly attacks against foreigners which have been blamed on Al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

The most recent occurred between 2004 and 2006 in popular Red Sea resorts, killing dozens.

More and more foreigners are visiting the remote southwest of Egypt near its borders with Sudan and Libya to see the prehistoric rock art preserved for millennia in one of the most isolated reaches of the Sahara.
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Egypt scours desert for kidnapped tourists
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