April 29, 2009 / 4:58 PM / 8 years ago

Darfur kidnappers release Canadian aid worker

3 Min Read

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Kidnappers have freed two Western female aid workers they captured in Sudan's western Darfur region more than three weeks ago and the women are in the hands of the Sudanese government, an official said Wednesday.

Canadian Stephanie Joidon and Frenchwoman Claire Dubois were seized at gunpoint from their compound in the south Darfur settlement of Ed el Fursan on April 4.

"The Sudanese government confirms the release of the aid workers and we have informed the French government about their release," Foreign Ministry official Ali Youssef told Reuters.

"They are in the Sudanese government's hands in Darfur. They are in good health and they will soon be moved to Khartoum."

The group, which calls itself the Freedom Eagles of Africa, had been demanding that Paris retry members of Zoe's Ark, a French humanitarian group, convicted but later pardoned over the abduction of children from Chad.

Earlier one of the kidnappers told Reuters the workers from women's aid group Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) had been handed over to a tribal leader in Darfur.

"We handed over the hostages to the leader of the Bani-Halba tribe and the mayor of Ed el Fursan," he told Reuters via satellite phone.

In Paris, AMI's spokesman, Frederic Mars, said: "It seems that things are going in the right direction." But he could not confirm their release and said AMI had not spoken to the women.

Neither the French or Canadian foreign ministries made any immediate comment.

The group, which calls itself the Freedom Eagles of Africa, had been demanding that Paris retry members of Zoe's Ark, a French humanitarian group, convicted but later pardoned over the abduction of children from Chad.

Earlier, the group said it would consider releasing Joidon and Dubois because of their deteriorating health. Dubois has been suffering from diarrhea.

Six members of Zoe's Ark were jailed in 2007 for trying to fly children aged between one and 10 out of Chad to Europe.

Chad said they had no authorization to take the children out of the country. The six, who denied the charges, were sentenced to eight years' hard labor by a Chadian court, but were pardoned in March 2008 by Chadian President Idriss Deby.

Kidnappings of foreign aid workers were almost unheard of in Darfur before a group calling itself the Eagles of Bashir seized four employees of the Belgian arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres in North Darfur last month.

The MSF workers were released unharmed three days later.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Paris; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Matthew Jones

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