Korkie hostage negotiator flees Yemen

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IOL Pierre Korkie1

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Pierre Korkie, 56, was kidnapped in the city of Taiz in Yemen in May.

Johannesburg - A Gift of the Givers Foundation's negotiator and his family have fled Yemen after negotiations soured earlier this week with Al-Qaeda militants keeping a South African man hostage.

“We pulled Anas al-Hamati and his family out of Yemen on Tuesday morning,” head of the disaster relief organisation, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, told Sapa.

“We are with them now in Dubai.”

Pierre Korkie's kidnappers on Sunday refused to accept that the South African government was not willing to pay the requested US3 million (about R32.5m) in exchange for his safe return.

“They insist that al-Hamati, our office manager in Yemen, has stolen the ransom money that the SA government brought to give them,” said Sooliman at the time.

Al-Hamati had been facilitating the negotiations. The last face-to-face negotiations were held on January 18, Sooliman said.

Other talks were conducted telephonically.

The last communication with the kidnappers was on Monday, he said.

“Our relationship (with them) has soured and we are waiting for them to contact us again sometime this week.

“We are hoping (by then) they will be rational and calm and believe al-Hamati.”

He said the foundation had not received an update on Korkie's health.

On Sunday, Sooliman said the militants had sent a picture of a bomb belt to them, emphasising that Al-Hamati was now their target for “stealing” their money.

Sooliman said he would convey Al-Hamati's story to the local media in Dubai to assist in getting the message to the kidnappers.

The South African government had been in talks with the Yemeni government regarding Korkie's release and maintained that the government “does not pay any ransoms”.

Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim travelled to Yemen last week, where he made an emotional plea on television for Korkie's release.

“Pierre Korkie is gravely ill and desperately needs medical attention. His life is in danger. Islam enjoins us to show mercy and forbids us from harming the sick, even in war. I beg those who are holding him to release him without delay,” Ebrahim said at the time.

“South Africa is a developing country and the Korkies are not a rich family. I appeal to you to co-operate with all initiatives so that Pierre Korkie can come home for the treatment he needs to save his life and be reunited with his family.”

Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda militants in Taiz, Yemen, in May.

It was believed the Al-Qaeda kidnapped the Korkies thinking they were US citizens.

At the time of the kidnapping, he was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals. She was released and returned to South Africa on January 13.

The militants threatened to execute Korkie on January 17 if they were not given the ransom. After an initial silence, the kidnappers made contact, indicating that Korkie was still alive on January 18. They gave a three-week extension to raise the ransom.

It was understood that there were several other foreign hostages being held in Yemen in areas beyond the government's control.

“An Iranian diplomat held hostage was executed yesterday (Saturday),” said Sooliman.

“His head was found in Marweh province. In spite of this new challenge, we still have two weeks to find alternatives,” he said.

Sapa


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