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Freed UN-contractor Russian hostages arrive in Khartoum after 128 days in captivity

Two Russians working for the United Nations African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) have been freed after spending 128 days in captivity. They have arrived safely at Khartoum airport.

The men, Sergei Cherepanov and Mikhail Antyufeev, were kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur in January. They had been seized at gunpoint when a UNAMID minibus was blocked.

Russian embassy spokesman Artur Safukov said on Saturday, "According to the information we got from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) yesterday, they were freed in central Darfur at 7:30 p.m. [1630 UTC]," on Friday.

"There was no ransom or use of force in order to release them. It was a peaceful release," Safukov said.

Security forces had detained the kidnappers. "The kidnappers and their equipment and their vehicles are now under our control," NISS Lieutenant General Taj al-Sir Osman said. Sudan's foreign ministry said the kidnapping was not a political act.

Cherepanov and Antyufeev were employed by Russia's UTair on a contract in Sudan for UNAMID.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply gratified" by the safe release of the UNAMID contractors. "He is relieved that the contractors will be able to reunite with their families and loved ones after 128 days in captivity," the spokesman said in a statement.

The Russian foreign ministry said the hostages were in good health and had been freed as a result of co-operation between the ministry, the Sudanese authorities, the United Nations Secretariat and UNAMID.

Ministerial changes

Also on Saturday,

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced a new government, more than a month after his re-election.

There are changes in the defense, foreign affairs and oil ministries. Lieutenant-General Mostafa Osman Abeed was appointed acting defense minister, Ibrahim Ghandour became foreign minister and Mohamed Zayed took over the oil ministry.

Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. He won elections in April with more than 94 percent of the vote, standing against 13 little known candidates for the presidency.

Ethnic insurgents launched a rebellion in Darfur in 2003 and, according to the UN, some 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict to date. A further 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague indicted Bashir in 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in 2010 for genocide.

jm/bk (AFP, Reuters)

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