24 January 2014
The government remains committed to finding options for the safe release of South African teacher Pierre Korkie, who is being held hostage in Yemen, Deputy International Relations and Cooperation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said after his visit to the country on the weekend.
Speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday, Ebrahim said he had met with representatives of the Yemen security services, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, the prime minister and the president of Yemen.
In addition to this, Ebrahim had appeared on Yemeni television to appeal to the kidnappers for Korkie’s release.
Ebrahim said details of the discussions could not be divulged at the moment, but that he had received a comprehensive report with the latest information regarding the kidnapping.
“We used our engagements to seek advice and look into what Yemen and South Africa can do together to secure the release,” he said.
Korkie and his wife Yolande, who had been living in Yemen for four years, were captured in May last year in the Yemeni city of Taiz. Yolande was released on 10 January without any ransom being paid, but the militants have demanded R32-million to release Korkie.
“The Yemeni authorities, who have considerable experience in dealing with situations of this type, emphasised that the motive of the kidnapping was not political,” Ebrahim said. “It was confirmed [to me] that South Africans are not the only ones targeted and that it was a case of mistaken identity.”
Foreigners were frequently kidnapped in Yemen by al-Qaida militants or tribesmen, who demanded a ransom for the release of their prisoners. Currently, eight other foreign nationals are being held hostage in areas that are not under government control.
In Korkie’s case, they had issued an execution threat if the ransom was not paid. The kidnappers extended the deadline for the ransom money to be paid last week Friday, by 21 days.
On Wednesday, disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers said the kidnappers had contacted them via SMS asking them about the ransom. The kidnappers later sent a picture of a bomb belt after the organisation said the government did not negotiate with terrorists.
Ebrahim said although the threats were being taken seriously, they remained hopeful that Korkie would be released unharmed.
The deputy minister said the government’s position was clear and that it did not pay ransom under any circumstances.
“This is not only a South African policy but the international norm of governments across the world … We do not negotiate with the kidnappers, we work with the government of that country.”
Regarding reports that the family was trying to raise funds for Korkie’s release, Ebrahim said that this was a private family initiative in which the government was not involved.
Despite no warning having been issued to South Africans travelling to Yemen, Ebrahim advised people to be careful when travelling in conflict areas and to register with the voluntary registration service Registration of South Africans Abroad.
This service is provided in the event that there is a need to contact citizens travelling or living outside of the country to offer important advice on a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.