Khartoum — The government of North Darfur state announced on Wednesday that four Chinese workers kidnapped last week have been released.
Mohamed Suleiman Rabih, mayor of al-Kouma locality was quoted by Sudan Official News Agency (SUNA) as saying that three people were detained over the abduction who acted as an "internal pocket" that paved the way for the kidnapping through phone calls.
He did not say if the workers were voluntarily released or whether it was a result of a security operation but said that they were handed over to the United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Rabih added that the freed workers were in good health and that they will soon be evacuated back home.
The four Chinese workers were part of a group of fifteen who were taken hostages by unknown gunmen near North Darfur capital of El-Fasher. The hostages included one engineer and three drivers from China while the Sudanese group was comprised of workers and engineers.
Rabih said that the eleven Sudanese workers remain in captivity. He called on the kidnappers to release them adding that they were only assisting in building development projects in the region.
No one claimed responsibility for the abduction but some sources pointed fingers at Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) while others blamed a splinter faction from Sudan Liberation Army belonging to Minni Minnawi (SLA-Minnawi).
But SLA-Minnawi in a statement denied responsibility.
Darfur has been a flashpoint for lawlessness and violence since rebel movements took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2003.
These mainly non-Arab tribes accuse Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and his government of neglecting and marginalising them.
The United Nations estimates as many as 300,000 people have been killed and almost 3 million people have been displaced during the ongoing conflict.
This incident was one of many impacting Chinese workers in different parts of Sudan. In January 2012 rebels in Sudan's troubled oil-producing South Kordofan State, which borders Darfur, kidnapped 29 Chinese construction workers. All were released unharmed about two weeks later.
China is Sudan's biggest ally and largest investor in the oil industry there as well as in Khartoum's archrival South Sudan. Chinese firms are ever-present in Sudan, as most Western firms shun the African country due to a U.S. trade embargo.