The top United Nations humanitarian official has welcomed today's release following days in captivity of 16 humanitarian workers detained by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) in the country's strife-torn Darfur region.
The hostages were reported to be in good health and were not harmed while in captivity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
While hailing their freedom, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland spoke out against the detention and delayed release of the workers, which he said “contradicts the solemn promise to facilitate all relief work made by SLM/A leaders and the other parties to the conflict last week during meetings with donors and UN officials in Geneva.”
All parties to the conflict, including the SLM/A, have agreed to facilitate and protect humanitarian staff and supplies and allow them freedom of movement.
The incident not only threatened the safety and security of humanitarian workers, but has interrupted and delayed aid to desperately needy civilians in Darfur, OCHA said.
“Too much time has already been lost in this race against the clock to save more than a million lives threatened by indiscriminate violence, starvation and disease,” the relief official stressed.
“We expect the government and the rebel groups to end restrictions on access and protect civilians and relief workers as we try to dramatically increase relief operations,” he added.
The 13 national and three international staff were conducting assessments to prepare the way for delivery of relief assistance for displaced people in the vicinity of Al Hilief in North Darfur when they were detained by an armed SLA unit on Thursday.
The team represented a variety of agencies including OCHA, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children-UK and ECHO, the Humanitarian Aid Office of the European Commission.