updated 1/6/2006 3:57:42 AM ET 2006-01-06T08:57:42

Yemeni tribal kidnappers on Friday freed five Italian hostages they took captive six days ago and surrendered to security forces, a deputy provincial governor said.

The five Italians were in good health and will be flown by helicopter to the Yemeni capital of San’a, said Adnan Abu Lehoum, deputy governor of Marib province.

Tribal mediator Jebal Teanan confirmed the three Italian women and two men were safe. In Rome, an Italian Foreign Ministry official also confirmed that the hostages had been freed. He had no details and spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.

There was no immediate word on what led the kidnappers to release the tourists and surrender. The government had deployed a large number of troops and helicopters around the kidnappers’ hideout in the Sirwah mountains in the past few days. Officials had also cut off water supplies to the area.

Kidnappers sought detainees' release
The Italians were abducted Sunday in Marib province, about 75 miles northeast of San’a, by tribesmen who sought to force the government to release detained members of their tribe. Hours later, the kidnappers were persuaded to release the female hostages, but the women refused to leave until their male companions were also released.

Italy’s ambassador to Yemen, Mario Boffo, had expressed cautious optimism Thursday that the hostages would be released, saying they were being treated “with civility and dignity.”

Italy’s Foreign Ministry also had said it received assurances from Yemen that the government would not use force to free the hostages and would not take any action that might endanger their lives.

Tribesmen of the poor country at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula often resort to kidnapping tourists to force concessions from the government. Hostages are normally released unharmed, but several were killed in 2000 when Yemeni soldiers carried out a botched raid to free them.

In the case of the Italians, the kidnappers had demanded that the state release eight members of their tribe, one of whom faces murder charges and was extradited to Yemen from the United Arab Emirates.

Teanan said one of the kidnappers was a member of the local district council, Marai al-Amiri.

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