Chinese workers kidnapped in Egypt freed

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 01, 2012 7:49 AM
Chinese workers kidnapped in Egypt freed

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Twenty-five Chinese kidnapped in Egypt were freed on Wednesday, a day after they were taken hostage by Bedouin tribesmen, Chinese and Egyptian media reported.

It was the second kidnapping in days that has sparked worry about Chinese workers in dangerous places.

China had earlier said it was "shocked" by the other abduction, of 29 Chinese workers by rebels in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan, highlighting growing fears associated with China's expanding global reach.

The 25 workers freed in Egypt were in good condition, Xinhua news agency said, citing an embassy official there, Ma Jianchun. Egypt's official Middle East News Agency confirmed their release after top security and army officials held talks with captors.

Bedouin tribesmen kidnapped 24 Chinese cement factory workers and a translator in Egypt's Sinai region on Tuesday and held them for 15 hours, according to Xinhua.

The kidnappings in Sudan and Egypt dramatize China's difficulties as it ventures into risky areas, generally shunned by Western companies, in search of resources and business.

China's ambassador to Egypt, Song Aiguo, had contacted Egyptian interior and defense officials on Tuesday, urging them to secure the release of the workers, Xinhua said.

The kidnappers were demanding that authorities free fellow tribesmen from prison, according to tribal sources.

Residents of Sinai say they are neglected by the central government in Cairo and have attacked police stations and blocked access to towns, villages and industrial sites to show their discontent.

The isolated desert region has descended further into lawlessness since an uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak a year ago and threw the security apparatus into disarray.

In Sudan, a team of officials China sent to seek the release of the 29 workers arrived in the capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the rebels holding the workers since Saturday said they were in good condition.

Arnu Ngutulu Lodi of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North told Reuters rebel officials had met Chinese diplomats in neighboring Ethiopia to assure them the workers were in good health. But he gave no indication of when they would be freed.

The SPLM-N also asked China to pressure Sudan to open humanitarian corridors to supply the rebel-held South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas with food and emergency aid, though that was not a release condition.

It is the third abduction of Chinese working in energy-rich Sudan since 2004.

Mark Po, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong, said the kidnappings were not likely to deter China from working in trouble spots.

"Chinese companies occupy a pretty big portion of infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges and communications, in third world countries, and this trend will continue," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Khartoum and Alison Leung in Hong Kong; Editing by Ken Wills and Robert Birsel)