Yemen kidnap victims freed in capital Sanaa

Map of Yemen, showing the capital and neighbouring Saudi Arabia

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Security forces have freed two UN employees kidnapped by gunmen in Yemen's capital Sanaa.

They were seized from their car just hours earlier, in the Hada neighbourhood, where several embassies are located.

The pair are believed to be an Italian man and his Yemeni driver.

Kidnapping is common in Yemen, where the government is struggling to contain an al-Qaeda-linked insurgency and a separatist movement.

Security forces arrested two of the four kidnappers, Yemeni intelligence sources told the BBC. The freed pair are said to be in good health.

There has been a spate of kidnappings recently. In February, a Czech doctor, a German and two other Europeans were also seized.

Hostage-taking in Yemen is sometimes carried out by militants aiming to intimidate Westerners, and sometimes by opportunists hoping to sell hostages on to other groups, but most commonly as a tactic by tribesmen to resolve disputes with the government, observers say.

Most of those are freed unharmed after short periods of captivity.

Those captured by militants face a more uncertain fate.

Al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate has been holding a South African teacher since May last year. It is also still holding a Saudi deputy consul kidnapped in 2012.

An Iranian embassy member of staff, Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht, also remains in captivity after being abducted by suspected al-Qaeda militants in July.

Yemen has long wrestled with instability, internal conflicts and poor governance.

It is engaged in a rocky political transition since long-time autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2012 following mass protests.

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