Three Latvian helicopter crewmen working with the World Food Programme who were kidnapped more than a month ago in Sudan’s Darfur region have been released, says the UN agency.
Kidnapping to gain ransom payments has become a new business in Darfur and has restricted aid operation as foreign workers are forced to retreat to the main towns.
The Latvians were taken from Nyala town, South Darfur’s capital and the region’s commercial hub on November 4. The United Nations estimates some 300,000 people have died in the humanitarian crisis sparked by Khartoum’s counter-insurgency aimed at quelling a revolt by mostly non-Arab tribes complaining of neglect, Reuters reports.
“We are delighted that these three men have been freed and our thoughts are with their families in Latvia who will be reunited with them in the coming days,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in a statement.
The kidnaps began after the International Criminal Court issued a 2009 arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes. The ICC later added genocide to the charges.
Khartoum rejects the ICC as a Western conspiracy and blames the Western media for exaggerating Darfur’s conflict. There have been more than a dozen kidnaps since the ICC warrant.
UN-African Union peacekeepers (UNAMID) are digging a trench around the town to stop the kidnappers escaping.
But Sudan has not arrested or prosecuted any of the abductors despite officials saying they know their identities.