Khartoum, Sudan — Three foreign aid workers abducted in Sudan’s lawless Darfur region were released unharmed on Saturday, three days after their capture at gunpoint led international aid groups to question how they can continue to work in the area.
Sudanese television showed the Doctors Without Borders workers — a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French project coordinator — stepping off a military helicopter at El Fasher airport in North Darfur with the local governor.
“I would like to say to everybody we are safe, we are here, we are in good health,” said Raphael Meunier, the French coordinator, speaking on Sudanese television. “We will be more talkative a bit later on; now our first thoughts are for our families.”
The governor, Osman Kebir, said Wednesday’s kidnapping was carried out by a group seeking to retaliate for the International Criminal Court arrest warrant issued against President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
Kebir said no ransom was paid to the group, which he said called itself the Eagles of al-Bashir.
“They said they released them for the country’s sake and they kidnapped them for the sake of the country,” he added.
Sudan’s government threw 13 international aid agencies out of the country after the March 4 warrant, accusing them of being the court’s spies. The government says it had nothing to do with the abduction and condemned it.
The Netherlands-based court accuses al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.
Sudan denies the charges and says the figures are exaggerated.
The government warned that issuing the warrant could lead to spontaneous revenge attacks by enraged Sudanese, though it pledged to defend aid workers and diplomats in the country.
The freed aid workers were from the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medicins Sans Frontieres. The branch was not among the agencies Sudan ordered out of the country, though two other MSF operations were.