KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Three Russian air crew members kidnapped in Darfur two days ago were released on Tuesday after a military operation by Sudan’s army, officials said.
The three, who were working for the Sudanese Badr Airlines but subcontracted to the U.N.-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission, were taken on Sunday on their way back from the market inside the region’s largest town Nyala.
“South Darfur’s governor announces the release of the abducted Russian pilots,” the Sudanese Media Center said.
Badr Airlines Deputy Executive Manager Mutaz Shora told Reuters that the three were in the care of the South Darfur authorities in Nyala.
“I am told they are in good health,” he said.
State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Mutrif Siddig told Reuters the three were released by a military operation similar to that which freed two kidnapped Jordanian peacekeepers earlier this month.
“Now there are no more hostages in Darfur and the authorities will be taking the necessary measures (to stop this),” he said. He gave no further details.
American Flavia Wagner, working for the U.S. charity Samaritan’s Purse, was released on Monday after 105 days in captivity.
But during the news conference confirming her release in Nyala, the South Darfur authorities expelled a staff member from the humanitarian agency Norwegian Church Aid.
“At the same meeting this woman, the head of office for NCA was informed that she would have to leave South Darfur,” Sam Hendricks, a U.N. spokesman said, adding they hoped the problem could be resolved through dialogue.
Sudanese papers, present at the news conference, reported she was expelled because she had urged Wagner to disclose her mistreatment at the hands of her kidnappers.
Wagner had told Reuters that during the last few weeks of her ordeal, her captors had begun to threaten her physically and her conditions had become desperate.
Kidnapping mostly by young men from Arab tribes demanding ransom began last year after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Bashir denies the charges and responded by expelling 13 aid agencies working in Darfur to help some 4 million people affected by the seven-year revolt.
More than 20 foreign aid workers and UNAMID peacekeepers have been abducted since last year. All have been released.
Khartoum has failed to arrest any of the kidnappers and reports of ransoms being paid have fueled abductions. Khartoum denies paying any ransom money.
The ICC added genocide to Bashir’s charges this year, and since then at least eight aid workers have been expelled from Darfur.
Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Jon Boyle