SOFIA (Reuters) - Six Bulgarian U.N. aid workers who were detained by rebels in Sudan’s strife-torn South Kordofan region have been released, the Bulgarian foreign ministry said on Sunday.
“They are in good health and are in a safe place with a team of the United Nations (World) Food Programme,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Betina Zhoteva said.
The WFP six workers were taken into custody by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Jan 26, when their helicopter made an emergency landing in South Kordofan.
SPLM-N spokesman Mubarak Ardol confirmed to Reuters that the six Bulgarians’ transfer to the United Nations was complete, after they were moved from rebel-held territories in Sudan to the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, where they were handed over to the United Nations.
On Friday, the chairman of Bulgarian Heli Air, the helicopter’s operator, told Reuters the aid workers would be released on the day or on Saturday after talking with the detainees over the phone.
The SPML-N rebels said the aid workers had been free to leave but accused the Khartoum government of blocking access to United Nations helicopters. A Sudanese government source has denied this.
The Bulgarian foreign ministry thanked the office of the WFP for the rescue, as well for the constructive role of the Sudanese government.
Fighting between the Khartoum government and SPLM-N rebels has increased in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where the helicopter had to land, since peace talks collapsed in December.
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; editing by Jason Neely