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Tourists Kidnapped in Egypt Held in Sudan

Negotiations continued for the release of 19 hostages, including 11 European tourists, who were abducted in southern Egypt on Friday. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the hostages are currently being held in Sudan, despite earlier reports that they had been freed.

According to Egyptian officials, German authorities were in discussion with the kidnappers on their demand for a ransom payment, which could be as high as $15 million. The hostages include five Germans, as well as five Italians, one Romanian, and eight Egyptians.

The European tourists and the Egyptians - drivers, guides, and guards for the tour - were abducted on Friday in Gilf al-Kebir, a remote desert region famous for its prehistoric cave paintings, which was featured in the 1996 film The English Patient. The region, near the border with Sudan and Libya, also has little security presence.

The chief of protocol for Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ali Yussuf, said the hostages had been taken across the border into Sudan.

"They took them inside Sudan, in the area of the meeting of borders of Sudan, Egypt and Libya, towards the northwest of Sudan," he said. "They took them about 25 kilometers inside Sudan. Their location is identified. The security and armed forces authorities in Egypt and Sudan are following the situation very closely. And the Egyptian authorities are making contact with the kidnappers to see what their demands are."

Yussuf said the attackers were Egyptian. Some Egyptian officials had suggested the attackers were Sudanese.

Egypt has a history of terrorist attacks on foreign tourists, though this marks the first time tourists have been kidnapped in the country. Islamist gunmen killed over 60 people at a tourist site in Luxor in 1997. And a string of bombings attributed to militant Bedouins targeted tourist hotels in the country's Sinai Peninsula from 2004 to 2006.

Egyptian officials have said there is no indication that the kidnappers belong to a terrorist group.

An Egyptian official told the Reuters news agency the attackers had threatened to kill the hostages if authorities attempt to track the captors. But Yussuf said the Sudanese government believes the hostages have not been harmed.

"The aim of the Sudanese and Egyptian authorities is to end this kidnapping incident peacefully," Ali Yussuf said. "As far as we know until now everybody is safe, no one was hurt."

On Monday at the United Nations in New York, Egypt's foreign minister had said that the hostages had been freed. But that claim was later denied by other Egyptian officials.