Hostage tourists moved to Libya

Kidnappers holding 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians moved from Sudan into Libya with their hostages on Thursday. The five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian were seized in southwest Egypt last week.


Kidnappers holding 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians moved from Sudan into Libya with their hostages on Thursday, a Sudanese spokesman said.

The kidnappers seized the tourists -- five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian -- last week while they were on an adventure safari through the far southwest of Egypt. They have been inside Sudan since at least Tuesday.

"The group moved towards the Libyan border and then crossed the border, and they are now 13 to 15 km (eight to 10 miles) inside Libya," Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol in the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, told Reuters.

The Sudanese government said on Tuesday it had them all surrounded at their encampment near Jebel Oweinat, a mountain near where the borders of Egypt, Sudan and Libya meet.

Egyptian officials have said the kidnappers are demanding a large ransom. One security source said they wanted 6 million euros ($8.8 million) to set the hostages free.

"The Libyan authorities have been informed. They are now following the progress of the group," Ahmed said.

The Sudanese government has indications that the kidnappers may be from one of the many rebel groups active in the Darfur region of western Sudan, he said.

The indications include the language that they speak and their route when they entered Sudan from Egypt. Most Darfuri
rebels do not have Arabic as their first language.

There has been contradictory information about the identity of the kidnappers. Egyptian officials have said the kidnappers
could be Sudanese or Chadian, while Sudanese officials at first said they believed the hostage takers were Egyptian.

The remote region, which contains cave paintings thought to be about 10,000 years old, is accessible by desert vehicle from the conflict zones of Darfur and eastern Chad.

Tour operators say they have seen an increase in banditry in the area in the past year.

The Egyptian and German governments have held talks with the kidnappers by satellite telephone and negotiators are optimistic about reaching a "good outcome" soon, an Egyptian government source said on Thursday.

Another telephone conversation took place on Thursday morning but no details were immediately available, the government source said.

 Asked how the hostages are keeping, the Sudanese spokesman said: "Information from today is that nobody has been hurt. There have been no casualties."

The kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostages if authorities try to find them by plane, an Egyptian official said
earlier in the week, although state media later quoted Egypt's tourism minister as denying any such threat.

Analysts say the kidnappers do not appear to have political or ideological motives, unlike the militant Islamists who
attacked tourist targets in the Nile Valley and the Sinai peninsula in the 1990s and the middle of the current decade.

But the incident is an embarrassment to the Egyptian government, which counts preserving law and order in a troubled
region as one of its major achievements. Tourism accounts for over 6 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product.


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