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Negotiations Continue to Free Five Italian Hostages in Yemen

Negotiations intensified Thursday to obtain the release of five Italians held hostage in Yemen. The Italians, who were abducted Sunday, are believed to be in good health and treated properly.

Italy's ambassador to Yemen, Mario Boffo said Thursday that negotiations are continuing and intensifying to obtain the release of the five Italians, kidnapped Sunday. He said one needed to be confident and patient as negotiations resumed in the morning.

The five Italian tourists were kidnapped in Marib province, some 120 kilometers northeast of the Yemeni capital, San'a. A rebel Yemeni tribe is holding the Italians captive in a mountain hideout. They have requested the release of some imprisoned members of their tribe.

The Yemeni authorities have assured Italy they will not make use of force or any action that could put the lives of the five hostages at risk.

The assurance came Wednesday, just hours after the Yemen government dispatched more helicopter-borne troops to encircle the mountain hideout and cut off water deliveries to the region where the hostages are being held.

In Italy, relatives and friends of the hostages are extremely concerned over their fate. A teacher from Padua, who is a colleague of one of the women, Carla Romigni, said the news took them by surprise and they are anxious about her fate.

Near Milan, where two more of the hostages live, the parish priest has organized a torch-lit procession for Friday to call for the release of the five Italians.

Relatives of the Italian hostages Wednesday issued a joint appeal to the kidnappers, asking that they return their loved ones as soon as possible and treat them well as long as they are in their custody.

Italian authorities are relatively optimistic that a solution will be found. In the past, other kidnappings in Yemen have ended positively.

In Yemen, residents in San'a have demonstrated against kidnappings they say hurt the country's image for tourism. They say Yemenis are a peaceful people and not a country of kidnappers.

Many other Italian tourists are in Yemen at the moment, most spending their Xmas and New Year's break in the country. They say they are not concerned for their safety.

An Italian tourist said there is no reason to be worried if you are cautious, if you know the places you are visiting and if you are guided by competent people.

Others say they have security guards traveling with them and this makes them feel safe. Tourists continue to arrive and do not appear to be discouraged by the kidnapping.