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Two kidnapped foreign aid workers freed in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Two foreign aid workers with Doctors Without Borders in quake-hit Haiti were kidnapped and held for nearly a week before being freed early on Thursday, the international medical charity said.

“Two of my colleagues, two women, were abducted last Friday. They were released early this morning ... they are in good health and in good shape,” Michel Peremans, spokesman in Haiti for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), told Reuters.

Citing privacy considerations, he declined to give details of their identities or nationalities or of the circumstances of the kidnapping, which occurred in the capital Port-au-Prince.

“It is not our policy to pay any ransoms,” Peremans said. He declined to say whether a ransom had been asked for in this case, or who the kidnappers were.

The incident was the first known kidnapping of foreign nationals in Haiti since the catastrophic earthquake on January 12 that wrecked Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns.

It was expected to raise security concerns among the thousands of foreign aid workers and soldiers who have flocked to Haiti since the quake in a huge international relief operation, as well as journalists. There were fears that the kidnapping could lead to copycat abductions.

Haiti’s president has said up to 300,000 people may have been killed by the earthquake, and more than a million people were left homeless, most of them poor.

Although the small Caribbean nation has a bloody history of political instability and social unrest, United Nations and U.S. military commanders involved in the post-quake aid operation say security has remained generally stable.

Nevertheless, significant looting followed the quake and aid groups reported some cases in which gunmen had attempted to hold up food convoys, which travel with military escorts.

Several thousand convicted prisoners have escaped from quake-damaged jails, and most of them are still at large.

Peremans said Doctors Without Borders would review its operating procedures in Haiti following the kidnapping, but was committed to continuing to help the country’s quake survivors recover from the disaster.

Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva and Pascal Fletcher; editing by Jane Sutton and Mohammad Zargham