Yemen rebels free US, Saudi, British detainees

yemen rebelsTwo Americans, three Saudis and a Briton were in Oman on Monday after being released from months of detention by Yemeni rebels as they joined new talks with the UN peace envoy.

The six men were flown to the Omani capital Muscat with a rebel delegation attending the talks with envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who has been shuttling between the rival sides for months in a bid to end the conflict that has gripped Yemen for the past year.

Neighbouring Oman has kept out of a Saudi-led military campaign waged against the rebels since March in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

It has provided both a neutral talks venue and a key mediating role in Yemen.

The White House confirmed that two of its citizens were flown to Oman where they were met by US consular staff.

New Orleans-based Transoceanic Development identified one of the pair as an employee who had been distributing relief supplies in Yemen.

Scott Darden, 45 — who has a 10-year-old son — was to be reunited with his wife in Oman on Monday, company spokesman Ken Luce told AFP.

Darden was detained by the Shiite Huthi rebels in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in March, CNN cited a US administration official as saying.

The network named the other freed American as Sam Farran.

There was no word on the identities of the freed Briton or Saudis.

The Omani foreign ministry said it had “responded to a request by the US adminstration to help in solving the issue of two American citizens held by Yemen security”.

“The sultanate’s humanitarian efforts also led to securing the release of three Saudis and a Briton who were also held by Yemeni security services,” it said.

Rebel officials provided no information on why the six men had been held.

The rebels overran the capital unopposed in September last year with the support of renegade troops still loyal to Hadi’s ousted predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Earlier this year, they swept through much of the rest of the country prompting Saudi Arabia to lead a military intervention that has seen them pushed back from much of the south.

Washington has provided intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led campaign, while calling for a political solution to the conflict.

– Third American believed held –

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that three Americans were being held by the rebels.

The third detained American was believed to be a 35-year-old convert to Islam who was teaching English in Yemen, the newspaper said.

Oman has brokered several releases of prisoners or hostages held in Yemen.

An American journalist believed to have been held by the rebels was handed over to Oman in early June along with a Singaporean.

The journalist, Casey Coombs, had been freelancing in Yemen since 2012.

Omani mediation also led to the release of French hostage Isabelle Prime in August after six months in captivity.

Hundreds of foreigners have been taken hostage in Yemen over the years, mostly by tribesmen as bargaining chips in negotiations with the government. Almost all have been freed unharmed.

But in December, American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie died during a failed attempt by US commandos to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda hideout in southeast Yemen.

Korkie’s supporters complained after the raid that they had been on the verge of negotiating his release.

In June, President Barack Obama changed existing procedures to deal with hostage-takings, following criticism of US policy spearheaded by the family of journalist James Foley who was murdered last year by Islamic State group jihadists in Syria.

Obama, while not revoking Washington’s policy of not making concessions, has said families will not be prosecuted for discussing ransom demands with kidnappers.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price hailed the latest releases.

“This outcome underscores that we have been and will continue to be tireless in pursuing the release of all Americans detained abroad unjustly, including those who remain in the region,” he said.

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