Darfur:last Sudanese hostages released from camp

The release of the five hostages came as the U.N.'s top envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, said the worsening situation in this country's crisis-wracked west is harming the flow of humanitarian aid. The five were released late Tuesday or early Wednesday from the Kalma Camp in the South Darfur city of Nyala, U.N. spokesman George Somerwill said.

They were among 30 Sudanese aid workers and 18 Health Ministry employees abducted by angry refugees protesting the Sudanese government's recent detention of a popular tribal sheik Mohammed Jebril, South Darfur police said in a statement.

The hostages were held in a medical clinic run by the Spanish Red Cross and the Sudanese Red Crescent since Sunday. The bulk of the hostages were released on Monday.

Pronk told reporters that Jebril's arrest was an example of the government's mishandling of the security situation in Kalma and said there was a "power vacuum" in the camp.

He added that Sudanese authorities arrested Jebril because he criticized the government during a June visit by U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan. Pronk said Jebril has been transferred from military intelligence custody to a local police station, which eased tensions in the camp.

The Kalma Camp is home to about 90,000 people forced from their homes during the Darfur conflict, which began in February 2003 when two African rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese government amid accusations of repression and unfair distribution of wealth.

The government has been accused of supporting Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed, who have been blamed for a campaign of killings, rape and arson. The Sudanese government denies backing the Janjaweed. The United Nations estimates that 180,000 people have died, mainly through famine and disease. Several million more have either fled into neighboring Chad or been displaced inside Sudan. Pronk expressed concern over the worsening security situation, saying it was having a negative impact on the humanitarian situation.

Pronk said the humanitarian aid had decreased the rate of malnutrition and death among Darfur's children. A.M.

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