Egypt makes contact with kidnappers over tourists


Discussions are under way involving Egypt and the abductors of 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians held captive across the frontier in Sudan, Egyptian Minister of TourismZohair Garanah said.

The travelers, along with their Egyptian guides and escorts, are being “well-fed and taken care of,” Garanah said today in a telephone interview. The victims include five Italians, five Germans and one Romanian.

He said no military action has been taken to free the hostages, who are being held for ransom. He declined to say whether Egyptian search teams had crossed into Sudan or how the Egyptians were speaking with the men who kidnapped the travelers Sept. 19. Sudanese and Egyptian security officials are coordinating efforts to liberate them, Garanah added.

There have been no “direct contacts” with the kidnappers, the Tourism Ministry said later in a faxed statement. Magdi Rady, spokesman for Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, said by telephone that negotiations are taking place; he declined to specify through which channels and about what.

“It is not a good idea to go into details,” he said.

The tourist group and its Egyptian guides was roaming the Gilf El-Gedid area, a region of sandstone plateaus and hidden caves, when it was seized. The region was featured in the 1996 movie “The English Patient” and has become a rugged attraction for eco-tourists. The Tourism Ministry said in its statement that word reached Cairo of the kidnapping Sept. 21.

Luxor Shooting

The kidnapping is sensitive for Egypt, where tourism has become a major foreign exchange earner– $10.8 billion nationwide last year. In 1997, the industry nearly collapsed after six gunmen shot down 57 tourists, a guide and an Egyptian policeman in Luxor, on the Nile River. Since then, tourists traveling outside the Luxor area must move in armed police convoys.

In New York at the United Nations yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit created confusion when he told reporters that the travelers and their guides had been “released, all of them safe and sound.”

Later, the official MENA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki as saying Abul-Gheit’s words were “inexact.