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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Darfur rebels release AU hostages
African Union troops mustering in Rwanda before their mission to Darfur
The AU has faced many difficulties in recent days in Darfur
Rebel forces in the restive Darfur region of Sudan have released most of a group of African Union peacekeepers they were holding hostage, reports say.

There had been confusion about the fate of 18 original hostages, after members of a rescue team sent to pick them up were themselves apparently captured.

But a Senegalese team leader and a translator are still being held.

The kidnappers are thought to be members of a dissident faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem).

Jem Commander Mohammed Saleh denied his men were involved but said he had warned the AU to leave and not to travel in areas he controls.

The BBC's correspondent in Khartoum, Jonah Fisher, says harassment and violence against AU peacekeepers is becoming more common.

About 180,000 people have been killed and two million have fled their homes since the Darfur conflict began in early 2003.

'Happy ending'

Eighteen AU staff were captured over the weekend. They included civilian police, military observers, a US envoy and a rebel representative, the AU said.

Initial reports said most were freed later the same day after a 20-strong rescue team was sent to secure their release.

But spokesman Noureddine Mezni later said that only a Chadian member of the team was released and the rescue team themselves were also taken hostage.

Mr Mezni finally announced the release on Monday, after the mission's commander in chief, Festus Owkonko, flew to Tine, a town on the border with Chad near where the abductions took place.

"According to our information and with some reservation, we can say that there was a happy ending as most hostages were released," Mr Mezni told AFP news agency.

Two AU peacekeepers and two civilian contractors were killed on Saturday, and another peacekeeper died on Sunday from injuries sustained in the same attack - an ambush the AU blamed on the main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

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