Swiss woman seized in Yemen ‘safe’: tribal chief

A Swiss woman being held hostage in eastern Yemen is safe and in good health, a tribal chief told AFP on Tuesday, offering to mediate with the kidnappers for her release.

“I am confident that the Swiss national is safe and in good health,” said Ali Abdullah Zibara, who played a role in brokering the release in November of three French aid workers who had been held by Al-Qaeda militants for more than five months.

“I was contacted by the Swiss embassy and I am waiting for written permission from the Yemeni government to begin efforts to free the Swiss woman,” Zibara told AFP.

He declined to comment on reports that her captors are loyalists of Al-Qaeda, which has a strong presence in Yemen’s south and east.

The Yemeni interior ministry, quoting a Swiss colleague of the woman, said she had been teaching at a foreign language institute in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida and was seized from her home on March 14th by “men in military uniform” who then moved her to Shabwa province, far to the east.

The ministry said that the kidnapped woman had telephoned her colleague to say that her abductors are demanding “the release of prisoners held in Hodeida” in exchange for her freedom.

A local official said that the detainees whose release was being demanded were both Al-Qaeda suspects. A security official said “the kidnapping bears the hallmark of Al-Qaeda.”

Shabwa is a stronghold of loyalists of the jihadists’ local affiliate Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, whose militants fight under the banner of Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law).

More than 200 people have been abducted in Yemen over the past 15 years, many of them by members of the country’s powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips with the authorities.

Almost all of those kidnapped were later freed unharmed.

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UN mulls sending staff back to Yemen

The death toll from fighting in Yemen since late March has topped 1,000, the United Nations said in Geneva on Thursday, saying it wanted to quickly send international staff back to the country.

Fighting and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition "have impacted virtually the entire country," UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Johannes Van Der Klaauw said in a statement.
"The toll on civilians has been immense," he added.
At least 1,080 people had been killed in the country, including 48 children and 28 women, and a further 4,352 people had been injured in the violence between March 19th and April 20th, according to the latest toll from the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
WHO receives its statistics from health facilities in Yemen, but since many people are not making it to hospitals for treatment the real numbers are probably higher.
The latest toll was published as Saudi-led coalition warplanes launched new strikes on Yemen despite a demand by Iran-backed Huthi rebels for a complete halt to the raids as a condition for UN-sponsored peace talks.
WHO said the fighting so far had proved deadliest in the region around the capital Sanaa, where 209 people, including 21 children and five women had been killed.
Another 936 people had been injured there.
In the main southern city of Aden, 191 people have been killed, including two children, and another 1,237 injured.
More than 150,000 people have also been displaced inside Yemen by the conflict, Van Der Klaauw said.
He warned that the violence had "worsened an already large-scale humanitarian crisis" in the country, where more than 300,000 people were already internally displaced before the latest round of fighting erupted.
WHO warned earlier this week that the country's health system was on the verge of collapse amid shortages of medical supplies and fuel for generators.
Already, "cases of bloody diarrhoea, measles and suspected malaria have increased," Van Der Klaauw said.
The conflict has also disrupted the supply of food, fuel, water and electricity across Yemen, he said, lamenting that schools, health facilities and private homes had been damaged and destroyed and that some two million children were out of school.
To help address the towering needs, the UN, which evacuated its international staff from Yemen at the end of March, was "exploring ways of redeploying (them) in the coming days," he said.

On Frida, the UN's children's agency said at least 115 children have been killed and 172 maimed in the violence raging in Yemen since Saudi-led air strikes began.

"We believe that these are conservative figures," Unicef spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva, saying at least 64 of the children killed were victims of air strikes.