Franco-Tunisian hostage reaches Oman safely from Yemen
MUSCAT - A female Franco-Tunisian Red Cross worker kidnapped in Yemen almost a year ago was freed on Monday and taken to Muscat, officials in Oman and Switzerland said.
Nourane Houas, a staffer with the ICRC's humanitarian protection programme in Yemen, was abducted in the Huthi rebel-held capital Sanaa in December 2015.
The Omani foreign ministry said her release had been secured "at the request of the French authorities, the instructions of Sultan Qaboos and in coordination with Yemeni parties" which it did not identify.
"Nourane Houas, an ICRC staff member who was abducted late last year in Sanaa, has been released and is currently in Muscat," the ICRC in Geneva said in a statement.
On her arrival in Muscat, Houas thanked "the sultanate, without which, (her) release would not have happened", according to Oman's official news agency ONA.
French President Francois Hollande hailed Houas's courage and expressed "his gratitude to all those who brought about a happy end to this ordeal," in a statement released by his office.
Houas was seized along with a Yemeni employee who was released several hours later.
The pair had been heading to work in Sanaa which is under the control of the Shiite rebels.
"We are relieved and thankful that Nourane is now back with us, safe and sound," said the ICRC head of delegation in Yemen, Alexandre Faite.
"Her abduction was a terrible ordeal for her, as well as for her family, friends and colleagues. And it has obviously dealt a real blow to our humanitarian work in Yemen."
"It has taken a lot of effort, inside and outside Yemen and over many months, but finally we have a positive result," said Faite.
Tunisia's foreign ministry published a statement on its Facebook page expressing "profound relief" at Houas's release and thanking those involved.
"Our priority now is Nourane's well-being and getting her home to her family. We would ask everyone to respect her and her family's privacy at this time."
The ICRC statement thanked everyone involved in securing her release "in particular his majesty Sultan Qaboos" of Oman.
Houas had appeared twice this year in videos released by her captors.
In the first, she appealed for help from Hollande and his Yemeni counterpart Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
In mid-August, the Tunisian authorities played up behind-the-scenes efforts to secure Houas's release.
The foreign ministry said Tunisian diplomatic missions in several cities, notably in Paris and Geneva where the ICRC is based, were pressing for a mobilisation of efforts to secure her release "as soon as possible".
Houas is the second Frenchwoman to be released from captivity in Yemen with the help of Oman in more than a year.
In August 2015, Isabelle Prime, who worked on a World Bank-funded project in Yemen, was released by her captors after spending nearly six months in captivity.
At the time, the Omani foreign ministry said her release was the result of efforts by the sultanate "in coordination with certain Yemeni parties".
A member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Oman has good ties with countries outside the wealthy bloc including Iran and Yemen.
It is the only GCC country not to have joined the Saudi-led coalition air war against the Iran-backed Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen, although it maintains good ties with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Oman is also the only Arab country, besides Syria, to have a good relationship with Shiite Iran and has mediated between Tehran and Washington on prisoners in the past.