Storm in the Desert: Bedouin Surround Peacekeepers in Sinai

Bedouins hope show of force would lead to the release of five Egyptian terror suspects.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay - An international peacekeeping force remained surrounded by armed Bedouin in the Sinai desert on Wednesday, senior Uruguayan officials said. The Bedouin hoped their show of force would lead to the release of five Egyptian terror suspects.

About 300 Bedouin armed with automatic rifles mounted on pickup trucks surrounded the camp, where hundreds of Colombian, U.S. and Uruguayan soldiers are stationed to prevent arms smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

An official with the peacekeeping force said there has been no shooting, even as the Bedouin blocked the main road leading up to the camp and tore barbed wire outside. The forces were in a state of alert and had increased their security, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A Uruguayan statement said the Bedouin also burned tires and stationed their guns around the four corners of the camp. As for the peacekeepers, "all are well, with food, ammunition, good morale," said Gen. Pedro Aguerre, the Uruguayan armed forces chief. He said the soldiers are highly trained and are prepared to use contingency plans if the situation worsens.

The group is trying to pressure Egypt to release five Bedouin facing retrial and a sentence of death or life in prison after being convicted of terrorism in 2005 bombing attacks in Sharm el-Sheik in southern Sinai.

At least two days of negotiations have apparently failed to resolve the standoff. Both sides are waiting for Egypt's response. "The important thing is to see how Egypt resolves the negotiation with the Bedouins," said Uruguay's foreign minister, Luis Almagro.