- aid - Darfur - kidnapping - NGOs - Sudan
AFP - Two foreign aid workers kidnapped and held in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region for more than three weeks were freed on Wednesday, their abductors and the foreign ministry said.
"We've handed them over to the local authorities in Ed el-Fursan (South Darfur)," one kidnapper told AFP by satellite telephone, asking not to be identified.
A senior official in the foreign ministry confirmed that the two had been released and were in good health.
"The Sudanese government confirms their release. They are in good health, in good shape," Ali Yussef, responsible for protocol at the ministry, told AFP of the two women, a French citizen and a Canadian.
"They will arrive in the evening" in Khartoum, he added.
The French relief group Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) for which the pair work did not immediately confirm the release.
French national Claire Dubois and Canadian Stephanie Jodoin were seized on April 4 from their office in Ed el-Fursan, south of the South Darfur state capital Nyala, about 100 kilometres (65 miles) from the Chadian border.
The identity, motivation and demands of the kidnappers, who call themselves the Falcons for the Liberation of Africa, remained sketchy.
"We freed them for humanitarian reasons... and because we wanted to give France the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of the children in eastern Chad," the kidnapper told AFP.
The Falcons said previously that they targeted AMI in protest at what they called the kidnapping of Darfuri children.
Chad jailed six workers with a French aid group, Zoe's Arc, in December 2007 after convicting them of trying to take 103 Darfur refugee children to France illegally.
Chadian Prime Minister Idriss Deby Itno pardoned the six within months of their imprisonment.
Sudanese media had reported that the kidnappers were demanding a hefty ransom, but they denied this, saying they wanted a retrial of the Zoe's Arc workers.
AMI spokesman Frederic Mar told AFP that he could not confirm the release as he had not had direct contact with the women. "But things seem to be on the right track," he said.
The Canadian hostage, Jodoin, had told AFP by telephone two weeks ago that Dubois was suffering from a fever, but the kidnappers said on Wednesday that the two women had seen a doctor and were in good health.
The hostage-taking was the second such act in Darfur since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant on March 4 for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Four workers with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), three of them foreigners, were kidnapped at gunpoint from their Darfur home on March 11. They were freed four days later.
Sudan expelled 13 aid agencies from Darfur immediately after the ICC issued its warrant.