CAIRO - Armed Bedouin kidnapped three South Korean tourists and their Egyptian guide in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday in the latest in a spate of abductions in the region, a security official said. The trio - three women - were returning from the historic monastery of St Catherine to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh when they were seized and taken off in a pickup, the official said on condition of anonymity. The kidnappers demanded the release of fellow tribesmen held by the authorities, the official added.

The kidnapping comes hot on the heels of the brief abduction of two American women and their Egyptian tour guide by armed Bedouin in the peninsula last week.

It also follows the brief seizure of 19 Egyptian policemen on Thursday after a tribesman was killed in a shoot-out with police near the border with Israel.

Bedouins in North Sinai also briefly held 25 Chinese workers employed by a military-owned cement factory, to demand the release of Islamist relatives detained over bombings in the peninsula’s Red Sea resorts between 2004 and 2006.

The sparsely populated Sinai has some of Egypt’s most lucrative tourist spots, as well as being home to a mostly poor and disaffected Bedouin population.