Twenty-nine Chinese workers abducted by rebels in Sudan more than a week ago have been released and flown to Kenya by the Red Cross, the group said Tuesday.
The rebels attacked a road construction site where the Chinese were working on Jan. 28, taking 29 hostages, while 17 managed to escape. Chinese state media reported earlier Tuesday that a body had been found of one missing worker.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the abducted Chinese workers travelled on board one of its aircraft from South Kordofan, Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya, where they were handed over to Chinese embassy officials.
"The ICRC assisted in this operation on humanitarian grounds, after all the parties concerned accepted its offer to serve as a neutral intermediary," Christoph Luedi, the group's head of delegation in Nairobi said in a statement. The Red Cross said it played no part in the negotiations that led to the release.
China expressed gratitude to Sudan, South Sudan and the Red Cross for their efforts, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement cited by Xinhua News Agency. It also said the workers were in sound physical condition and would rest in Nairobi before returning home.
The workers were abducted by members of Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, a branch of a guerrilla movement that has fought various regimes in Khartoum for decades. Its members hail from a minority ethnic group now in control of much of South Sudan, which became the world's newest country six months ago in a breakaway from Sudan.
Sudan has accused South Sudan of arming pro-South Sudan groups in the South Kordofan region, where the Chinese workers' camp was located. The government of South Sudan says the accusations are a smoke screen intended to justify a future invasion of the South.
Chinese companies have invested heavily in Sudanese oil production. South Sudan and Sudan are in a bitter dispute over oil, which is produced primarily in South Sudan but runs through Sudanese pipelines for export.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.