August 7, 2015 / 1:14 AM / 2 years ago

French aid worker hostage freed in Yemen

Women hold posters of Frenchwoman, Isabelle Prime (R) and her Yemeni translator Shereen Makawi during a protest to demand their release in Sanaa March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

PARIS (Reuters) - A Frenchwoman abducted in Yemen in February has been freed, French authorities said on Friday, adding that her captors had been about to kill her.

Development worker Isabelle Prime and her translator Shereen Makawi were abducted by gunmen in the capital Sanaa on Feb. 24 while on their way to work. Yemeni tribal sources said in March Prime would be released, but only Makawi was freed at the time.

“We have indications that her death was not far off,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on iTele television on Friday. “If we had not got her out, she would be dead.”

Asked whether a ransom had been paid, a French official said France never gave details on either the detention or release of hostages.

“I spoke to her by telephone this morning, she is doing as well as can be expected,” Fabius said in a statement. “The release of Isabelle Prime shows yet again that France does not abandon its own.”

A statement from President Francois Hollande said: “The president wishes to thank all those who helped achieve this outcome, and in particular Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the Sultan of Oman.”

Neighboring Oman has often played a mediating role in hostage releases and regional diplomacy.

Authorities there helped locate Prime and bring her to the Gulf Arab sultanate at dawn, official news agency ONA cited an unnamed official at the Omani Foreign Ministry as saying.

Kidnappings of Westerners occur sporadically in Yemen, mostly carried out by al Qaeda militants and tribesmen.

In recent years, tribesmen in Yemen have taken foreigners hostage to press the government to provide them with services or to free jailed relatives.

Yemen is also home to one of the most active branches of al Qaeda, to which tribal kidnappers have often sold their victims, according to Yemeni security officials.

In June, France authenticated a video that appeared on YouTube in May showing Prime making an appeal in English to Hollande and Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“Please bring me to France fast because I’m really, really tired,” she said in the video, in which she was seen crouching on sand and in distress. “I tried to kill myself several times because I know you will not cooperate and I totally understand.”

Since Prime’s abduction, the situation in Yemen has become more complex. Hadi fled into exile in March after Iranian-allied Houthi fighters, who seized the capital Sanaa last September, advanced towards his southern stronghold in Aden.

Yemen’s Arab neighbors have intervened to halt the advance of the Houthis, who are Shi‘ite Muslims from the north.

The Houthis have been pounded with air strikes for more than four months, and the raids and other warfare have killed more than 4,000 people. Disease, hunger and water shortages have also contributed to a humanitarian crisis.

Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Roche

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