Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai region kidnapped 25 mostly Chinese cement factory workers on Tuesday, demanding that authorities free fellow tribesmen from prison, sources from the tribe said.
“We will not release the Chinese until our demand for the release of these sons of Sinai are met,” said one of the Bedouin who wanted to remain anonymous.
The workers were kidnapped on their way to a Sinai cement plant. They are being held in a tent near a road the Bedouin have blocked to press their demand, the sources said.
They said the jailed tribesmen were arrested between 2004 and 2006 as part of an investigation into bombings at the Taba resort on Sinai’s Red Sea coast in which 31 people were killed.
According to the Bedouins, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power last year when a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak, has repeatedly promised to release the Bedouins.
The Chinese are currently being held in a tent in Lehfen, where protesters have been blocking the highway to northeast Sinai for three days, the Bedouins said.
A security official said authorities were in talks with Bedouin elders to try to resolve the issue.
Residents of Sinai say they are neglected by Cairo and have attacked police stations and blocked access to towns, villages and industrial sites to show their discontent.
The isolated desert region has descended further into lawlessness since a popular uprising ousted Egypt’s president a year ago and threw the security apparatus into disarray.
Human rights groups say scores of migrants trying to reach Israel, many of them Somali and Ethiopian, are being held for ransom there.
The latest abductions come after 29 Chinese workers were take hostage by rebels in Sudan’s border state of South Kordofan on Saturday.
China has sent a team of officials to Sudan and called upon Khartoum to seek the urgent release of the workers. The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) said it took them for their own safety.
The major Red Sea beach resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Taba and Dahab all witnessed bloody attacks between 2004 and 2006 which killed a total of 130 people.
The attacks were claimed by a previously unknown Islamist group calling itself Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, and dealt a major blow to the tourism industry, one of the country’s highest sources of foreign income.