Government and tribal envoys were negotiating on Thursday with tribesmen who kidnapped a top former German diplomat and his family as they vacationed in the eastern Yemeni mountains, with officials expressing hopes for a quick release.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany, expressed confidence that Juergen Chrobog and his family will be released.

"I am certain that there will be a resolution before the end of the year," Steinmeier said on Thursday.

Chrobog and family were in Yemen as tourists at the invitation of the deputy foreign minister.

Hands of tribesmen

They have been in the hands of Yemeni tribesman since Wednesday morning, Steinmeier said.

"I'm certain that the government of Yemen will do everything possible to bring about a resolution to this kidnapping situation, a resolution that results in the safe release of the Chrobog family as soon as possible," he said.

Lack of development has helped
preserve many historical sites

The Yemeni authorities said they were negotiating with the tribesman holding the Germans.

"We have formed a committee of tribal leaders and government officials to negotiate with the kidnappers. No force will be used to free them," Ali al-Rassas, governor of Shabwa province, said.

"They will be freed safely and soon," another official said, giving no further details.

The deputy governor of Shabwa, the province where  the abduction took place a day earlier, said the release could come at any time. "The negotiations are progressing well," Nasser Ba'oum told The Associated Press.

Criminal charges

Yemeni officials say the family was seized by members of the al-Abdullah tribe during a trip to Shabwa from the port city of Aden.

The kidnappers are trying to force the Yemeni government to free five tribesmen jailed on criminal charges including murder.

"I am certain that there will be a resolution before the end of the year"

Frank-Walter Steinmeier,
German Foreign Minister

The captors said the Germans were in good health.

"We are still talking with authorities. The hostages are in an excellent state," one of them told Reuters by telephone.

One of the kidnappers, however, told Reuters on Wednesday that the lives of the family would be at risk if the government used force to free them.

Chrobog, 65, was Germany's ambassador to the US from 1995 to 2001.

In 2003, he was the top diplomat dealing with Europeans abducted in the Sahara desert and was able to secure the release of 14 hostages, including nine Germans.