All 25 workers held hostage in Egypt set free

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am


The 25 Chinese workers taken hostage by Bedouins in Egypt on Tuesday have been freed after being held for less than a day, while the Sudanese rebels holding 29 other Chinese workers asked Beijing to put pressure on Khartoum.

The two incidents have sparked renewed calls from the Chinese government and enterprises to improve risk assessment to better protect the safety of workers abroad.

The Chinese embassy in Egypt said the workers were freed yesterday morning after a 15-hour ordeal. The cement factory workers were taken to a military hotel in Arish. No further details were given about their release.

'The workers are in good condition. They were not beaten by the abductors. The abductors provided food and water to the workers,' said the embassy's director of consular affairs, Zhang Zhizhong. 'We are still working out arrangements for the workers, but they will probably be returned to their work site.'

Zhang said the factory was now guarded by the Egyptian military, which also owns the facility.

The Chinese workers were abducted by tribesmen in Arish on their return to work following a holiday to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The Bedouins demanded the release of five relatives who are being held for suspected involvement in bomb attacks in South Sinai between 2004 and 2006. They also called for an end to Egyptian natural gas sales to Israel.

Egyptian authorities went to tribal leaders for their help in getting the worked freed.

After his release, a 25-year-old worker told Xinhua: 'We were worried and nervous after being held by the locals. However, the Chinese embassy kept in contact with us through text messages and was making efforts to rescue us, which made us feel very relieved.'

'We had expected the problem to be solved in one or two days, but it was settled so quickly. We felt like we were dreaming.'

Meanwhile, as the kidnapping of 29 Chinese workers in Sudan enters its sixth day, rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) said their chairman Malik Agar had met Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia Xie Xiaoyan in Addis Ababa on Monday, asking Beijing to use its influence on Khartoum to help badly-needed aid reach the country's warzone, Agence France-Presse reported.

But the rebel's spokesman said these requests were not made as demands to be met for the workers' release.

Beijing has sent a team of six officials to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to aid in the rescue.

Qiu Xuejun, head of the team and an official with the Foreign Ministry, said the team will demand that the Sudanese government take all steps necessary to rescue the Chinese workers.

There were 47 Chinese workers at the camp of a road-building company when the rebels attacked, but 17 of the workers managed to escape while one remains missing.

The hostage incidents have triggered concerns about adequate protection for Chinese nationals working overseas. An article published by China News Service said Chinese enterprises believe Beijing has geopolitical influence in some countries, but when their internal situation becomes volatile, their companies are often targeted in conflicts.