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Liberia Rebels Release Five UN Nurses Held Hostage Since June

Rebels in Liberia have released five U.N. nurses who had been held hostage since June.

Senior rebel commanders handed the five women, all Liberian nationals, over to U.N. officials in the town of Dadioro on the border with Guinea.

Rebels with the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy captured the nurses June 20 during an attack on a U.N. refugee camp at Sinje, in northwestern Liberia.

Abou Moussa is the regional director for the U.N. refugee agency. He tells VOA little had been known about the women's whereabouts or conditions from the time they were abducted at Sinje.

"Ever since, we have not been able to have any clear indication of what was happening," he said. "We received assurances that they were still alive. We can [now] confirm that these nurses have been released to our officers in Guinea."

One of the nurses, Maria Okwunuo told VOA she and her colleagues are in what she described as good condition. But she said they are fatigued after days of walking through battle zones. She said the rebel captors treated her and her co-workers generally well.

"We were afraid because we were seeing guns," she said. While we were on the road, there was a lot of shooting, a lot of guns. We were scared. We cried. We did not get all of our wants and needs, but they did their best to share with us what they had.

The nurses' release followed negotiations between U.N. officials and rebel leaders. The talks also involved officials of the regional group, the Economic Community of West African States.

Rebels have been battling to topple Liberian President Charles Taylor for three-years. Attacks this year have come within minutes of the capital, Monrovia.

Fighting has raged in northern Liberia in recent weeks, and both sides claim to be gaining territory.

The government said its forces took control of the rebel base town of Voinjama last month. But the claim has been contradicted by witnesses and independent journalists inside Voinjama who say rebel fighters have maintained control of the town.