NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today held extensive talks with the Deputy Prime Minister of Yemen during which she conveyed India's concern over the safety of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in the Arab country last year, the ministry said.
On his part, Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi told Swaraj that Father Tom was alive and the Yemen government was making all efforts to secure his release. "The External Affairs Minister stressed the government's concern for the safety and well-being of Father Tom Uzhunnalil who was abducted in April 2016 from Aden and reiterated the request for continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release," the ministry said in a statement after the meeting. Al-Mekhlafi, who is also the foreign minister of Yemen, assured all cooperation to secure release of Father Tom, a resident of Kerala.
The internal situation in Yemen as well as the overall atmosphere in the gulf region are believed to have figured in the talks.
Terror groups like the al Qaeda and the Islamic State are said to have bases in parts of Yemen resulting in instability in the country. Swaraj and Al-Mekhlafi held discussions in a cordial and friendly atmosphere, covering bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest, the MEA said.
"The visiting minister appreciated India's steadfast support for Yemen during difficult times, including India's humanitarian assistance," the MEA said.
In the meeting, Swaraj thanked the Yemeni government for its whole-hearted cooperation and support in evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Yemen under the 'Operation Raahat' in March-April 2015.
India had evacuated 6,700 people, including the nationals of 41 countries, under the operation when internal strife in the Arab nation grew out of control. The Yemeni deputy prime minister appreciated India for continuing to welcome Yemeni nationals, especially for higher studies and medical treatment. "He requested increase in slots for Yemeni students as also facilitation of medical visas for the Yemeni patients as India has been their most preferred destination.
The External Affairs Minister assured all possible assistance, including through supply of much-needed medicines at Yemen’s request," the MEA said. Swaraj hosted a lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary. Al-Mekhlafi arrived here yesterday on a four-day visit.