KHARTOUM — Two French aid workers abducted in the Central African Republic and held for four months were on Sunday freed in Darfur, the Sudanese region gripped by civil war and a wave of kidnappings.
Olivier Denis and Olivier Frappe were working for a French charity, Triangle Generation Humanitaire, when they were kidnapped in November 2009 in the Central African Republic, across the border from the western region of Sudan.
They arrived late on Sunday in the Sudanese capital, where Denis spoke of how the pair had feared for their lives at the start of their ordeal.
"There were (threats) then the tone calmed down," a long-bearded Denis told journalists at a Khartoum military hospital. "Sometimes they (kidnappers) started again when they got impatient. Initially we feared for our lives."
"We were not mistreated but obviously lots of things go through one's mind," said Denis, adding that "there were two of us which is lucky."
In a statement issued in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed "delight that they have been freed."
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said earlier: "I fully share the happiness of their families and loved ones, and the NGO, with whom the foreign ministry's crisis centre has been in permanent contact since their abduction."
Sarkozy also called for freedom for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker Gauthier Lefevre, who was abducted in Darfur last October.
The French-British dual national was kidnapped in West Darfur near the border with Chad.
A shadowy armed group in Darfur called the Freedom Eagles of Africa said in November it abducted Denis and Frappe and Red Cross worker Laurent Maurice, as well as two other aid workers, a Frenchwoman and a Canadian, freed in April.
Maurice was released last month after 89 days in captivity.
A spokesman for the group, Abu Mohammed al-Rizeigi, told AFP at the time of November's kidnappings that it wanted France to "change policy in the region," although its motives remained vague.
Paris has difficult relations with the Khartoum government as it has taken in a top Darfur rebel leader -- Abdel Wahid Nur, who heads the hardline faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement.
France also has personnel across the border in both Chad and the Central African Republic as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force.
Darfur has been stricken by a war that broke out in 2003 between rebels and militia backed by the Sudanese government. Armed groups have splintered into two dozen factions, some engaging in banditry with no clear political aims.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir in March last year for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.
There has since been a spate of kidnappings of foreign aid workers in the region.
The Sudanese authorities vowed on Sunday to bring to justice those behind the abduction of the latest two French nationals to be freed.
"We'll bring them to justice," Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs, Abdel Baqi Gilani, told AFP. "We want to eradicate this culture (of kidnapping) which is not ours."
Lefevre is now the sole foreigner in the hands of kidnappers in Sudan.
"We are doing everything we can to free the ICRC employee," Gilani said. "We hope he will be released soon."
The abductions forced humanitarian agencies to change the way they operate in Darfur by limiting the movement of expatriate aid in the vast region's remote areas.
The Darfur conflict has claimed about 300,000 lives and displaced 2.7 million people, according to UN figures, since February 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
On February 23, Khartoum and the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group signed a ceasefire and a framework agreement for Darfur peace, but several other important rebel factions have rejected the deal.
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