- hostages - kidnapping - Yemen
AFP - Six foreign hostages kidnapped this month in a restive area of northern Yemen are alive and being held by Shiite rebels, a tribal source said on Monday, after three other hostages were found dead last week.
"The six hostages were found alive and handed over to (rebel) commander Abdullah al-Rizani," the tribal source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"They are currently in the Ruzmat area" of Saada province, the centre of the Shiite rebellion in the mountains near the Saudi border, he added.
The source said that the rebels had identified the kidnappers as being two of their own fighters -- Mohsen al-Tam and Fawaz Morqi.
A senior Yemeni security official said he too had information that the hostages were alive and in the hands of the rebels.
"The rebels are refusing to hand over either the hostages or their kidnappers," the official told AFP.
The hostages -- five Germans and one Briton -- were part of a group of nine foreigners whose abduction the Yemeni authorities announced on June 14.
The bodies of the three women hostages -- two Germans and a South Korean -- were found on June 15.
Yemeni Interior Minister Motahar al-Masri had said on Saturday that the other hostages might still be alive.
"The information we have is that no bodies of any one of the six hostages were found and there is a possibility that they are still alive," he said.
The German government had no immediate comment on the latest reports.
The Yemeni authorities have repeatedly blamed the abduction and murders on the rebels from Yemen's Zaidi Shiite minority who have been fighting for restoration of the Zaidi imamate which was overthrown in a republican coup in 1962.
The rebels again denied any involvement in the kidnappings or the murders on Monday.
"This information is baseless... perhaps even intelligence leaks whose objective is to hinder the investigation," rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television channel.
"We do not have any information and the authorities are responsible for what is happening and what has befallen the hostages".
The nine foreigners worked for Worldwide Services, which has been operating a hospital in Saada for the past 35 years, according to Yemeni officials.
The Brake bible school in Lemgo, Germany said the two slain Germans were third-year students who had been doing work experience at the hospital in Saada since the start of June.
Local sources said the group was a Baptist organisation that also has a medical team in the hospital at Jebla, south of Sanaa, where an Islamist militant killed three American doctors in December 2002.
Foreigners are often kidnapped in Yemen by tribesmen to be used as bargaining chips in disputes with the government. More than 200 foreigners have been abducted over the past 15 years.
But this is the first time in nearly a decade that a hostage has died.
In June 2000, a Norwegian diplomat was killed in an gunfight between police and his abductors.
In December 1998, three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants were killed when security forces stormed the kidnappers' hideout.
In March of this year, four South Korean visitors to Yemen were killed in a suicide bombing at a historic tourist site that was claimed by Al-Qaeda.
Seoul urged its citizens to leave the country after that attack.