Bulgarian copter crew freed in Darfur

2011-06-06 21:06

Khartoum - Three Bulgarian helicopter crew on a UN contract kidnapped in Sudan's troubled Darfur region were released on Monday after 145 days in captivity, the World Food Programme said.

"They were released today. We still don't know the circumstances of their release... They were held in captivity for 145 days," WFP spokesperson Amor Almagro told AFP.

"I can assure you that the World Food Programme did not pay any ransom for them," she added.

The three aircrew were abducted by armed men on 13 January at a landing strip in Um-Shalaya, 60km southeast of El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.

The hostages, working at the time for the UN Humanitarian Air Service which is managed by the WFP, appeared to be in good health, the agency said in a statement.

It was the second abduction of WFP aircrew in Darfur in three months, after three Latvians were seized by gunmen on 4 November 2010 in the South Darfur capital of Nyala. They were freed the following month.

WFP's Regional Director Amer Daoudi on Monday praised the government in Khartoum for its efforts to secure the release of the Bulgarians, who he said were seized while "working to help the most vulnerable people in Darfur".

At least 300 000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in 2003, according to the UN. Khartoum says 10 000 people have died.

Despite a relative lull in the war-ravaged region, there has been a wave of kidnappings for ransom since March 2009 when the International Criminal Court indicted President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Around 30 foreigners have been kidnapped in Darfur since the indictment, with most of them released unharmed a few days later.