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Oman evacuates three Americans from Yemen: Ministry

AFP , Thursday 19 Nov 2015
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Oman's air force has evacuated three US citizens from war-torn Yemen to the Omani capital following a request for aid from Washington, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

Oman "coordinated with Yemeni authorities to find them (the Americans) and allow them leave" late Wednesday from the airport in Yemen's rebel-controlled capital Sanaa, said a ministry statement carried by state news agency ONA.

A security official in Sanaa said the three were held by the rebel-controlled intelligence agency "over spying accusations," adding that they were arrested at different times, with some being in custody for at least five months.

The Omani statement did not identify the Americans.

It said the trio were in Muscat "before heading home", but provided no timeline.

One of two Americans detained in October by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels was announced dead in custody by US officials earlier this month. The United Nations said at the time that two foreign personnel working on maintaining a building used by UN staff were detained.

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, brokering several releases of prisoners or hostages.

In September, Oman secured the release of two other Americans, three Saudis and a Briton held by Huthis.

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

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 securing 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.

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