Freed aid workers prepare to return home after ordeal

Two female aid workers arrived in Khartoum on Monday exhausted and eager to go home after surviving nightmare experiences such as mock executions during 107 days of grueling captivity in Darfur.


AFP - Two female aid workers arrived in Khartoum on Monday exhausted and eager to go home after surviving nightmare experiences such as mock executions during 107 days of gruelling captivity in Darfur.

A gang of armed men kidnapped Irishwoman Sharon Commins, 33, and Ugandan Hilda Kawuki, 42, on July 3 from a compound run by Irish relief group GOAL in the North Darfur town of Kutum.

"We are very happy to be here," Commins said as she walked on the tarmac of Khartoum airport.

In an interview with Ireland's RTE state broadcaster, she said the two women thought they were going to die several times during their captivity on remote mountaintops at the hands of armed men, some of whom she described as "evil."

"We'd be told to kneel on our knees and they would shoot around us," Commins said. "Obviously the first time that happened we thought we were absolutely going to be shot."

She and Kawuki never knew whether it was going to be a mock execution or the real thing, the Irishwoman said.

"None of these guys wear glasses so you are not even sure how accurate their sight is so it was just an extremely dangerous situation to be in. It was extremely scary and we were always anxious," she added.

"I can't wait to see the family," said Kawuki. "I am very exhausted because we have not really rested since being released."

Commins was due to fly to Dublin later on Monday and Kawuki was to leave for home on Tuesday.

The two women were freed early on Sunday after local tribal chiefs pressured their kidnappers into releasing them, a Sudanese minister said.

North Darfur state humanitarian affairs minister Abdel Baqi Gilani said no ransom was paid.

"We are very very grateful to the government of Sudan and the people of Sudan who prayed for us and kept our family strong and us strong," Commins said.

The two women's 107 days of captivity were the longest endured by foreign aid staff in Darfur since the conflict erupted in the western region in early 2003.

Sudan's relations with foreign relief organisations soured in March after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

Two members of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres MSF) and French aid agency Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) were kidnapped in March and April then freed after spending three days and 26 days respectively in captivity.

Gilani said those who carried out the latest kidnapping must be brought to justice.

"They must be punished otherwise there will be no more order" in Darfur, he told AFP. "People at security, people at state level they were able to identify the kidnappers by name, family, tribe. So they cannot escape punishment."

None of the previous kidnappers has been prosecuted.

Two civilian employees of the UN-African Union joint peacekeeping force in Darfur kidnapped in August at Zalingei in west Darfur are still in the hands of their abductors. They are the only hostages still in captivity in Darfur.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in February 2003.

The government says 10,000 people have been killed.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app