The kidnapping of the five Italians prompted the sacking of governors in the two provinces where the Western tourists were seized.

 

The Italians' kidnapping came hours after Ali Abdullah Saleh,  Yemen's president, pledged to eradicate abductions in the poor Arab country, and a day after five German hostages were freed unharmed by tribesmen who had held them for three days.

 

A security official said on Sunday: "Negotiations have started towards the peaceful release of the two remaining Italian men. Tribesmen stopped the vehicle the tourists were travelling in and abducted them."

 

He said troops were also being deployed in the remote mountainous Marib province, where the five were kidnapped by al-Zaidi tribesmen demanding that eight tribe members held on criminal charges be freed.

 

The tribe has carried out similar abductions in the past.

 

Being treated well

 

In Rome, Italy's Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping of the Italians and said its embassy in Sanaa was working with the Yemeni authorities to seek a solution.

 

A Yemeni official told Reuters: "Provincial officials who are mediating were allowed to meet the Italian men and they say the two are in good health and are being treated well."

 

Italy's Foreign Ministry said there were about 100 Italians in Yemen and that it had long warned against travel to tribal areas on its website.

Abduction of Germans

A former German diplomat and his family, who were taken hostage by Yemeni tribesmen in the east of the country, were freed on Saturday after security forces laid siege to the kidnappers' hideout.

Juergen Chrobog - a former ambassador and foreign ministry number two - and his wife and three sons were freed while their four captors were arrested.

 

The German Chrobog family were
released on Saturday

In December, two Austrian tourists were held hostage for three days also in the Marib region. In November, two Swiss holidaymakers were briefly held by tribesmen in the same area.

 

Nearly all of the kidnappings in Yemen have been carried out by tribesmen seeking to put pressure on the central government Hostages have generally been released unharmed.

 

However, three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants were killed when security forces stormed their hideout in December 1998.

 

Despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries and more than 200 foreigners have been reported kidnapped in the past decade.