Bedouin tribesmen in the Sinai peninsula on Monday briefly detained 10 Fijians from the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), which is charged with monitoring peace between Egypt and Israel.
One of the tribesmen told AFP they had seized the men because they were seeking the release of Bedouin prisoners held by Egypt.
“They were patrolling and we seized them by firing in the air,” he told AFP by telephone on condition of anonymity. “They are with us now, and we want the liberation of all Bedouin prisoners.”
He later said the captives were released following assurances their demand would be met.
An Egyptian security source confirmed the 10 had been detained and then released around an hour later.
The MFO is an independent international organization with peacekeeping responsibilities in the Sinai. Its origins lie in the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
It was unclear precisely how long the peacekeepers had been held, however, and why the tribesmen had released them.
The MFO could not be immediately reached for comment, while state TV and the state news agency MENA denied that the incident had taken place.
MENA cited its own security source as saying that the troops had in fact got lost but had later found their way home without any problems.
In March, armed Bedouin surrounded a camp belonging to the MFO mission for eight days before lifting the siege. That incident was also a bid to pressure Egyptian authorities into releasing tribesmen from jail.
In March, Bedouins briefly abducted two Brazilian women tourists in the Sinai before releasing them hours later, in the third kidnapping of foreign tourists in two months as they pressed their demands.
In February, Bedouins also demanding the release of jailed tribesmen kidnapped three South Koreans in the same area, shortly after the abduction of two American women and their Egyptian tour guide.
The tourists and the guide were all released quickly and unharmed in that case also, as were 25 Chinese workers seized at the end of January.
The sparsely populated region is where Egypt’s most lucrative tourist resorts are located, as well as being home to a mostly poor and disaffected Bedouin population.
Since an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak last year, the Sinai has grown ever more lawless, with attacks on police stations and 14 bombings targeting a pipeline that exports gas to neighboring Israel and Jordan.
The Bedouin have pressed hard for the release of captive tribesmen they say have been sentenced unfairly on charges ranging from terrorism to drugs dealing and people trafficking across the border into Israel.
In March, dozens of heavily armed tribesmen agreed to end an eight-day long siege of an international peacekeepers’ camp in the north of the peninsula after the military promised to look into their demands.
The Bedouin said they would give the military a month to release jailed tribesmen, some convicted on terror charges. None of the peacekeepers, tasked with monitoring a treaty with Israel, was harmed.
Egypt’s military, in power since Mubarak’s ouster, tried to quell Islamist radicals in the peninsula with limited success last year, and the authorities now appear to prefer negotiating with armed tribesmen.
The military has already pardoned 18 Bedouin outlaws sentenced by military tribunals in absentia, while a state security court ordered a new trial for five Bedouins accused of deadly bombings in two Sinai tourist resorts in 2004.