Yemen frees Ethiopians held by gunman seeking ransom

Ethiopian migrants sleep out in the open near a transit centre where they wait to be repatriated in the western Yemeni town of Haradh, on the border with Saudi Arabia, March 29, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

SANAA, March 29 (Reuters) – Yemeni police have freed 21 Ethiopian illegal migrants who were tortured by armed men to force their relatives in Saudi Arabia to send ransom money, the government said on Thursday.

The group, which included 14 women, were held in a house in Hajja province near the border with Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

“Security forces stormed the building, arresting three of the kidnappers, including two who were torturing the Ethiopians with electric cables and iron chains,” it said.

“The Ethiopians said during investigations that their kidnappers wanted to force them to contact their families who are in Saudi Arabia to send money to secure their release.”

It said the Ethiopians had been transferred to a U.N. refugee centre ahead of repatriation.

Yemen, which has been in turmoil over the past year as protesters forced veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, is a destination point for refugees from Horn of Africa countries although it is one of the world’s poorest nations.

Many hope to cross the porous mountain border with Saudi Arabia, an affluent Gulf oil producer.

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Reuters