April 22, 2012 / 2:26 PM / in 7 years

International Committee of Red Cross aide abducted in Yemen

SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - Armed men kidnapped a French official of the International Committee of the Red Cross as he was travelling from north Yemen to the Red Sea port city of Hudaida, the ICRC said on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the kidnapping but seizing foreigners or Yemenis in order to secure releases of jailed relatives is common in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state. Most hostages are freed unharmed.

Dibeh Fakhr, an ICRC spokeswoman in Sanaa, said the Frenchman, who works in the northern city of Saada, was kidnapped late on Saturday some 30 km (18 miles) from Hudaida.

“He was with two Yemeni drivers who the kidnappers released shortly afterwards,” Fakhr said. “Until now we have no contact with the kidnappers or our employee.”

Yemen slipped into chaos after the outbreak of protests more than a year ago that eventually ousted autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh under a deal brokered by Yemen’s rich Gulf neighbors, including regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

Separately, in Lawdar, four Islamist militants were killed by an air strike, residents said, as battles with government forces continued around the southern city for the third week.

On Saturday, a soldier was killed and 10 wounded in clashes with Ansar al-Sharia, the al Qaeda-linked group, a security official said, adding that one militant was also killed.

Fighting continued in the southern city of Zinjibar, where the army killed at least 18 militants on Friday. A defence ministry website said government forces advanced in eastern and southern parts of the city that the militants seized a year ago.

Reporting by Tom Finn in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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