updated 10/17/2007 11:49:18 AM ET 2007-10-17T15:49:18

Three truck drivers working for the U.N.'s World Food Program have been killed in the past few days while delivering food aid to Darfur, the WFP said in a statement Wednesday.

Two of the men were killed in an ambush Tuesday near the South Darfur town of Ed Daien, close to where 10 African Union peacekeepers were slain in September, the statement said.

A third driver was killed on Oct. 12 on the road from Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, to El Fasher in North Darfur.

The U.N. food relief agency said it did not know the identity of the attackers.

"WFP is deeply saddened and shocked by the killings of these brave men, who knew the dangers they were facing but continued to work tirelessly to alleviate suffering and bring food to the hungry in Darfur," Kenro Oshidari, head of WFP in Sudan, said in a statement.

All three men worked for a contractor company that delivers WFP food aid to storehouses in Darfur, from where the U.N. agency and multiple aid groups then distribute it to some three million people.

At over $1 billion a year, the U.N. says Darfur is the largest ongoing humanitarian operation in the world. Fighting broke out in the western Sudanese region in 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination.

Khartoum is blamed for indiscriminately retaliating against black civilians. More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been chased from their home despite an African Union peacekeeping mission deployed in the region.

The 7,000-strong AU force is to be replaced in January by a hybrid force of 26,000 AU and U.N. peacekeepers.

Over 60 aid vehicles have been hijacked this year alone by Darfur's various warring parties, and 12 humanitarian workers have been killed. Aid groups and U.N. agencies have also pulled out nonessential staff from several localities because of the ongoing violence.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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