Tue, August 31, 2010
World > Africa

US aid worker freed, Russians kidnapped in Darfur

2010-08-31 06:31:20 GMT2010-08-31 14:31:20 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

American aid worker Flavia Wagner, 35, who was kidnapped in mid-May 2010 in a village in South Darfur state along with two Sudanese colleagues, arrives at Khartoum airport. (AFP/Ashraf Shazly)

KHARTOUM – A female American aid worker abducted in Darfur more than 100 days ago was freed on Monday, officials said, while three Russians were kidnapped in the war-torn region of western Sudan.

The aid worker for US aid group Samaritan's Purse, Flavia Wagner, 35, was kidnapped on May 18 in the village of Abu Ajura, in South Darfur state, along with two Sudanese colleagues who were freed after a week.

"She was freed a short while ago and is now at the home of the governor of South Darfur, (Abdel Hamid Kasha) in Nyala," Sudan foreign ministry spokesman Moawiya Osman told AFP.

Colleagues had seen her "and report that she is well. She said she is looking forward to being reunited with her family in the United States," Samaritan's Purse said in a statement.

"We thank God that Flavia is safe and free," said Franklin Graham, president of the American aid group. "We appreciate the help of the government of Sudan and the United States government."

Wagner's release -- after a 105-day ordeal in which she became the first Western woman to have been held alone in Darfur -- was the fruit of "negotiations with the abductors," Osman said.

"No ransom has been paid," he added. Her abductors had asked for a large sum of money in exchange for her release.

According to Osman, authorities had struck "a deal with the Americans that no security operation should be undertaken to free the woman in order to protect her life."

The kidnappers initially wanted a ransom but later said they had made "demands" of the Khartoum government.

"People around the world have been praying for her safety and her release. Today, those prayers have been answered," Graham said.

News of Wagner's release came just hours after Sudan's army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad reported that two Russian helicopter crew members had been abducted by gunmen in Nyala, capital of South Darfur, on Sunday.

He later gave a revised figure of three Russians kidnapped.

Strife-torn Darfur has seen a wave of kidnappings since March 2009, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes there, with 23 foreigners seized, including the Russians.

With Wagner's release, only the three Russians now remain in captivity.

In July, Wagner, reached by satellite telephone, told AFP that her situation had become a "nightmare."

"In the past it was okay, but now it is not. They are threatening me, my life, my health," she said.

"I am not safe now. I don't have clean water, the situation changed very quickly into a nightmare. There are 20 men around me now."

According to foreign ministry spokesman Saad, the abducted Russians work for private aviation company Badr.

The Kremlin special envoy on Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, was quoted by Interfax as saying that the three Russians were the captain of a Mi-8 helicopter and two crew members.

"The helicopter was carrying food and other civilian supplies for the United Nations mission to Darfur," Margelov said.

Darfur has been gripped by civil war since 2003 that has left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, according to the United Nations. Khartoum says 10,000 have been killed in the conflict.

The capture of the Russians was the second abduction of foreigners in Darfur this month and the latest in a string of kidnappings in Nyala.

On August 14, two Jordanian police advisers with the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) were kidnapped but released a few days later.

In July, a Russian helicopter pilot was taken prisoner after landing in South Darfur to pick up a group of rebels and transport them to Chad for peace talks. He was freed four days later.

(Agencies)

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