Two aid workers held hostage in Darfur, one French and one Canadian, were freed Thursday after three weeks in captivity, France's foreign minister said.
The two women, sent to Darfur by non-governmental group International Medical Aid were in good health, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. They were brought to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
The two women, Stephanie Jodoin, of Canada, and Claire Dubois, of France, were seized April 4 in southwest Darfur and released Wednesday, International Medical Aid said in a statement.
Kouchner expressed thanks Thursday to those who helped free the workers. Neither he nor the aid group would elaborate on the release.
The semiofficial Sudan Media Center said 13 kidnappers traveling in two vehicles and on a camel seized the hostages and took them to an area about 60 miles east of the town of al-Genaina in west Darfur.
No ransom paid
The Sudan Media Center said no ransom was paid to free them, and that a tribal chief mediated the release.
The reason the two were seized was unclear. But the Sudan Media Center, quoting an unnamed security official, said it was linked to resentment in Darfur over the 2007 kidnapping by a French aid group of about 100 children in the region.
Six members of the group, Zoe's Ark, were arrested in Chad as they sought to take the children on an airplane to France to be adopted.
Zoe's Ark said the children were orphans from Darfur, but they were found to be from neighboring Chad and most had a living parent or close adult relative. The incident strained relations between France and Chad.
Sudan government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said the two hostages were undergoing medical tests Thursday at the Al Amal military hospital. The aid workers were then to fly to France.
The aid group expressed "deep relief" at the release but said its activities in Darfur remain suspended while it evaluates the situation.
"Attacks on humanitarian workers put in danger vulnerable populations whose essential needs they are trying to meet," the statement said.
The father of the Canadian aid worker spoke with her after her release, and said she was doing well. Denis Jodoin said from his home in Mont-Saint-Hilaire in Quebec that the family is "very happy" she is safe and sound.