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Africa

Released aid workers arrive in Khartoum

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Latest update : 2009-03-15

Three foreign aid workers - an Italian doctor, a Canadian nurse and a French administrator - freed by kidnappers in Darfur have arrived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and appear to be in good health.

AFP - Three foreign aid workers arrived in Khartoum on Saturday after being released by the gunmen who kidnapped them earlier in the week.
   
The Canadian nurse, French administrator and Italian doctor working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had been seized at gunpoint from their compound in Saraf Umra in North Darfur state on Wednesday.
   
The aid workers flew into Khartoum airport on Saturday night and were taken to hospital, appearing to be in good condition.
   
"Everything is all right. We were not mistreated," the French doctor, Raphael Meunier, told reporters in brief remarks shortly after his release.
   
A Sudanese staffer kidnapped with the others was also freed, but it was not clear whether he traveled with them to Khartoum or remained in Darfur.
   
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said no ransom was paid to secure the release of the four, ANSA news agency reported.
   
"No ransom was paid. MSF has said it and repeated it and ... we repeat it as a government," Frattini said. "We had contacts with the Sudanese authorities and Sudanese security services who also excluded this."
   
On Thursday, North Darfur Governor Osman Mohammed Yusef Kabir said the kidnappers had demanded a ransom, but insisted on Saturday night that no money had been paid.
   
"Thank God, we have released them without any ransom," he said, adding that the abductors called themselves Beshir's Eagles, a reference to Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.
   
Kabir, who previously referred to the kidnappers as bandits, said on Saturday they had acted in response to what he called an affront to national sovereignty by the International Criminal Court.
   
That was a reference to the arrest warrant for Beshir issued by the ICC last week for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
   
The seizure of the aid workers had dealt a fresh blow to relief efforts in the vast region, which is the size of France.
   
That concern was echoed in a statement by the Belgian arm of the charity.
   
"Given the deteriorating security situation, it is not clear at what level MSF will be able to conduct its medical projects in Darfur," the statement said.
   
MSF-Belgium's head Christopher Stokes also said no ransom had been paid.
   
In a parallel press conference in Paris, MSF-France chief Filipe Ribeiro said "all options are open," for the time being in Darfur. "There have been no conclusions drawn yet from these events."
   
The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the six-year-long conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which puts the figure at only 10,000. An estimated 2.7 million people more have fled their homes.
   
Last week, the government expelled 13 foreign relief agencies after the arrest warrant was issued, a move the United Nations warned would have a severe impact on aid distribution.
   
UN chief Ban Ki-moon again urged Khartoum to rescind the expulsion order and said he was "deeply concerned" by the abductions.
   
Since the issue of the warrant -- the court's first against a sitting head of state -- the United Nations and United States have warned of security problems in Sudan and threats to foreign targets.
   
Thirty workers with MSF left Darfur for Khartoum, a spokeswoman said on Friday, adding that the rest of the group's 35 workers had stayed behind to support their captive colleagues.
   
MSF's Dutch and French chapters were among the 13 groups ordered out of Darfur by the Sudanese government. The Belgian chapter, for which the freed staffers worked, was not expelled.

Date created : 2009-03-15

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