CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday his country has no information concerning reports that hundreds of Eritrean hostages are being held by people traffickers in the Sinai Peninsula.
"The interior ministry, which is always in contact with the foreign ministry, has no information whatsoever about reports that hundreds of Eritreans are held hostage in Sinai," Aboul Gheit said.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees raised the alarm on Tuesday, saying it was concerned that about 250 Eritrean migrants were believed to be held hostage in the Sinai desert.
"We have noted media reports that the traffickers are demanding payments of $8,000 (€6,040) per person for their release, that people are being held in containers and are subject to abuses," a statement in Geneva said.
Aboul Gheit said "whoever has proof should come forth" and share the information, dismissing as unacceptable unsubstantiated reports "from any foreign, European or religious" source.
"On the contrary, what we know is that a group of Eritreans tried to enter Italy (illegally) from Libya and were returned there and after that some of them infiltrated into Egypt," he told reporters.
Security officials said on Wednesday that 82 Eritreans and Ethiopians were arrested north of Suez city overnight as they were heading to the Sinai by bus en route to Israel to look for work.
Earlier this week, Egyptian authorities said they were investigating the reported abduction of Africans in the Sinai but had failed to come up with any hard evidence.
The Sinai desert border is a major trafficking route for African migrants seeking jobs.
Thousands of Eritreans each year flee the country, with many heading for Israel.
In August, seven people were killed in clashes with smugglers and police near the border with Israel after African migrants being held by traffickers seized the weapons of their captors in a bid to escape.
Israel began work in November on a 250-kilometer (155-mile) fence along the border aimed at stopping the influx of migrants.