Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Sunday, 18 October 2009 14:39 UK

Kidnapped Darfur aid staff freed

Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki
Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki have been freed by captors in Darfur

Two aid workers who were kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region more than three months ago have said they are "thrilled" to be released.

Irish citizen Sharon Commins, 32, and her Ugandan colleague Hilda Kawuki, 42, were working for the Irish charity Goal when seized by gunmen in Kutum in July.

The Sudanese government confirmed the pair were freed early Sunday morning.

The women described their ordeal as a "difficult time" and thanked all those who had worked to secure their release.

In a joint statement released through the GOAL charity, the women said they were "naturally thrilled to be released after such a long period in captivity".

"We know it must have been a traumatic period for our families especially and for our friends," they said.

"It was of course, a difficult time - but we found strength in each other and in our friendship."

They added that they could "hardly wait to get home" to spend time with their families.

Ransom demand

Sudan's state Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Abdel Baqi al-Jailani, stressed that "no ransom was paid," and said local tribe leaders had put pressure on the kidnappers to release the workers.

Reports earlier in the year had suggested the kidnappers made a $2m ransom demand in return for their safe release.

The Sudanese government said the kidnappers were bandits who would not be granted an amnesty for releasing the aid workers, the BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum said.

The two women have spent the longest time in captivity of any foreigners in Darfur, our correspondent added.

They were taken hostage at gunpoint at an aid compound in Kutum on 3 July.

Speaking in Dublin, Ms Commin's mother Agatha said she was "absolutely overjoyed" at the news of her daughter's release.

'Traumatic ordeal'

The chief executive of GOAL, John O'Shea said there was a "sense of overwhelming relief" at the charity and said they were especially pleased for the families of both women.

He confirmed that he had spoken to Ms Commins on Sunday morning and said she "sounded wonderful".

"Hilda and herself have suffered a traumatic ordeal- but happily both have had the strength and courage to come through it," he said.

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he was "delighted and relieved" to hear the two volunteers had been freed.

Humanitarian workers in Sudan say they have faced increased hostility and threats since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in March for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

The Sudanese president is accused by the ICC of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Two employees of the joint United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force are still being held captive in Darfur by a different group.

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