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Missing Tourists Found Unharmed in Algeria - 2003-05-14

Seventeen of 32 Western tourists missing since mid-February in Algeria have been found and are reported to be in good health. But the fate of the remaining 15 tourists is unclear. An Austrian government official has indicated the tourists were held hostage.

The foreign ministries of Germany, Austria and Sweden said Wednesday that 17 European tourists who went missing in Algeria's southern Sahara desert three months ago have been found safe and sound.

The 17 were part of a group of 32 tourists believed to have been kidnapped in mid-February. The fate of the remaining 15 has not been disclosed.

The group, made up of 16 Germans, 10 Austrians, four Swiss, a Swede and a Dutch national, was last seen heading into the desert on motorcycles and in four-wheel drive vehicles.

Diplomatic officials in Algiers said the 17 (10 Austrians, six Germans and a Swede) appear to be in good health and are undergoing medical checks in the capital Algiers. An Austrian government official, Franz Schausberger, indicated the tourists had been held hostage and said he was relieved the hostage drama did not end in a bloody way.

May 4, Algerian state radio reported the tourists had been kidnapped and that the government was negotiating their release. But a day later government officials denied the report.

Thousands of Algerian troops began searching for the tourists in March.

It's believed the tourists were heading for an area known for its ancient graves. However, it is also an area known for arms and drug smuggling.