- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

KHARTOUM, SUDAN (AP) - Three foreign aid workers kidnapped in Sudan’s lawless Darfur region have been freed and arrived at an airport there, said the aid group spokesman and members of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force.

UNAMID spokeswoman Josephine Guerraro told the Associated Press that three aid workers and a Sudanese employee with the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders arrived at El Fasher airport and appeared in “good health” and were on their way to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Erwin Van’t Land from the group’s headquarters in Brussels said his staff on the ground in Darfur confirmed the release, but had no further information.

The aid workers from were snatched from their compound in northern Darfur late on Wednesday night.

There was no information available about how the workers were released or if any kind of deal was struck or ransom paid. It also remains unclear who took the workers hostage.

The kidnappings had further ignited fears about a backlash against foreigners in Sudan after an international court issued an arrest warrant earlier this month against Sudan’s president for war crimes in Darfur.

Sudanese officials have said the International Criminal Court’s decision encouraged lawlessness and warned that “unruly” elements might react angrily.

The area where the gunmen kidnapped them is government controlled, and pro-government Arab militias are based nearby.

In response to the March 4 indictment against al-Bashir, Sudan expelled 13 international aid groups working in Darfur, including two branches of Doctors Without Borders, accusing them of cooperating with the International Criminal Court. Al-Bashir, who rejects the court’s charges, has threatened to kick out more aid groups as well as diplomats and peacekeepers.

Three other branches of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, had remained in Darfur. But the group decided to pull out its remaining 35 international workers after Wednesday’s kidnapping, temporarily halting the group’s operations. Only two staff remained to negotiate the hostages’ release.

The three foreign aid workers were taken captive when armed men broke into their compound in northwest Darfur. Two Sudanese workers were also kidnapped.

The Netherlands-based court has accused al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes, according to the U.N. Sudan denies the charges and says the figures are exaggerated.

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