Reuters: A Belgian woman kidnapped with her partner by bandits in southeast Iran was freed on Wednesday, Belgium’s Foreign Ministry said, but it was unable to confirm a report from Iranian media that her partner was also released. TEHRAN (Reuters) – A Belgian woman kidnapped with her partner by bandits in southeast Iran was freed on Wednesday, Belgium’s Foreign Ministry said, but it was unable to confirm a report from Iranian media that her partner was also released.
The Belgians were abducted on Sunday by a group led by a man named Ismael Shahbakhsh, who demanded that his jailed brother be freed in return for their release, Iranian officials had said. It was not clear if Shahbakhsh’s demand was met.
The woman’s release was confirmed early on Wednesday by a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman. Later, Fars News Agency quoted an “informed source” from the Kerman provincial office near where the pair was snatched as saying the man was free too.
“By the efforts of the security forces, the man was released tonight (Wednesday),” Fars quoted the source as saying.
But a spokesman from Belgium’s Foreign Ministry said it had no news the man had been set free and the Fars report resembled an earlier item “that was not exactly correct”.
“We have no confirmation of release and no indication that anything has changed from earlier,” the spokesman said. “We do not trust anything until we actually speak to the Belgian man ourselves.”
The two tourists were traveling by car in an area between the historic city of Bam and Iran’s border with Afghanistan and Pakistan when they were seized, Iranian news reports said.
On Tuesday, a Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman had said the kidnapped man had phoned his mother to tell her they had both been freed, but reports in Iran suggested their abductors had orchestrated the event.
The Belgian authorities have not yet named the two kidnap victims, but Belgian media named them as 35 year-old Carla Van den Eeckhout and 28 year-old companion Stefaan Boeve from the Flemish town of Aalst.
According to their blog (www.bloggen.be/ncumisa) they left Belgium on April 4 and were traveling to India via Europe and Asia. On their blog, they said they were aware of the dangers in southeast Iran and intended to return to Belgium via Africa.
“Poverty and drug dealers will be the ingredients for the coming week,” they said on their blog in Dutch.
Southeastern Iran is notorious for clashes between the military and well-armed drugs smugglers.
Tourists visiting the region are advised not to travel at night. In the past, European and other tourists have been abducted there. Kidnappers held some for weeks to try to secure detained relatives’ release from jail.
(Additional reporting by Darren Ennis in Brussels)