Rebels release abducted UN staff and aid workers in Darfur, Sudan

Rebels release abducted UN staff and aid workers in Darfur, Sudan

WFP food distribution in Sudan
Announcing the safe release of its three staff members and three other relief workers captured by rebels in the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today condemned the targeting of humanitarian personnel by armed groups.

The aid workers were freed today after negotiations between a UN security team conducting a search for them and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which had abducted the six workers in North Darfur on Saturday.

The three WFP staff and the three workers for the Sudanese Red Crescent - not five as previously reported - were then flown by helicopter to El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.

WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jacques Graisse said the agency was delighted that the six people were released unharmed.

But he warned that "any continuation or escalation of incidents such as the one just resolved is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the relief operation."

Radhia Achouri, a spokesperson for Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, told reporters today that international humanitarian law demands that aid workers have safety and security and that they also have unimpeded access to those in need.

Earlier this week a separate Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), detained 22 Sudanese health workers for several hours near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.

In June the SLA detained a large group of aid workers from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in North Darfur before eventually releasing them unharmed.

SLA and JEM have been in conflict with Khartoum in Darfur, a remote, impoverished region in Sudan’s west, since early last year. Notorious militias known as the Janjaweed, who have been linked to the Sudanese Government, also stand accused of committing deadly and brutal atrocities against civilians. More than 1.2 million people are internally displaced and another 200,000 live as refugees in neighbouring Chad.