Kidnapped Bulgarian UN air crew freed in Darfur

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Three Bulgarian air crew working for the United Nations have been released after they were kidnapped six months ago in Darfur.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the three men are in good health and will be flown to Sudan’s capital Khartoum, and then home to Bulgaria. The WFP says it did not pay a ransom for the crew’s release.

The three Bulgarian helicopter crewmembers were seized on January 13 by armed men about 75 km southeast of Geneina, the capital of Western Darfur province, Reuters reports.

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said all three were Bulgarian nationals working for Heli Air Services contracted to the United Nations. Heli Air Services executive director Vasil Valkov told Bulgarian national radio in January that they were negotiating with the kidnappers.

The lack of security and the kidnappings – there have been more than a dozen abductions targeting foreign workers by young men demanding ransoms since 2009 – have hindered what is the world’s largest humanitarian operation.

All of those kidnapped in Darfur have been released safely without any injury to them. The kidnappings have been fuelled by reports of Khartoum paying ransoms, which it denies.

The Sudanese government has yet to apprehend any of those responsible for the kidnappings, despite officials having said they knew who the criminals were.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says there has been a recent increase in fighting in Darfur, which has been overshadowed by South Sudan’s road to independence next month.

The organisation says that around 70 000 people have been forced from their homes in Darfur since September. Meanwhile, the UN says approximiately 300 000 people have died during the eight-year conflict between black African rebel groups and Arab militias in Darfur.

The Bulgarian kidnapping is the latest in a wave of abductions hindering aid in Sudan’s war-torn region, but foreigners throughout Africa have been targeted:

NIGER:

September 16, 2010 – Seven foreigners are kidnapped in Arlit, in Niger’s northern uranium mining zone. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims responsibility. The foreigners, including five French nationals, were employees of French firms Areva and Vinci and were taken by their captors to Mali on September 17. A Togolese, a Malagasy man and the French wife of an Areva employee were freed and handed over to authorities in Niger on February 25.

Kidnappers demanded 90 million euros (US$127 million) for the return of the remaining four French hostages.

SOMALIA:

April 2008 – Gunmen seize a Briton and a Kenyan working on U.N.-funded project.

July 14, 2009 – Somali gunmen kidnap two French security advisers in Mogadishu. One of them, Marc Aubriere, escapes on August 26.

November 8, 2010 – European Union anti-piracy task force says it has rescued a South African yachtsman after he was left behind by Somali pirates. Two other South African crew members were taken ashore as hostages.

February 22, 2011 – Pirates shoot dead four US hostages on a private yacht, the deadliest incident involving Americans kidnapped for ransom off Somalia. The US military says the pirates shot the hostages before American special forces boarded the vessel.

February 24, 2011 – A Danish sailboat with a family of five including three children aged 12-16 plus two crew members aboard is seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean.

ALGERIA:



February 2, 2011 – A 56-year-old Italian woman, Maria Sandra Mariani, on a tourist trip to the Sahara desert in southeastern Algeria is kidnapped by al Qaeda insurgents.