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Aid Workers Held Hostage in Darfur Released

The United Nations says a hostage situation in Sudan's western Darfur region has ended with the release of all captives. Darfuri refugees took 34 aid workers hostage Sunday in the region's largest refugee camp to bargain for the release of an imprisoned tribal leader.

Aid workers taken hostage Sunday in Darfur have been released, according to the United Nations. The workers were abducted by residents of the Kalma camp in retaliation for the arrest of a Darfuri tribal sheikh.

Most of the hostages were released Tuesday, but five Sudanese aid workers were later released unharmed.

The sheikh and several other displaced people were imprisoned for gathering firewood in an off-limits area.

U.N. Special Representative Jan Pronk says the displaced people, known as IDPs, are frustrated by harsh living conditions within the camps.

"There was escalation of tension on both sides," said Jan Pronk. "I am happy to inform you that it has been de-escalated now due to the efforts of many mediators. The sheik which was arrested, the leader of the IDPs is still in jail, but no longer in the jail of national security but in the police jail. The sheikh has instructed his people to release the hostages, which they had taken, and there are now continuous talks going on to solve the problem completely."

Mr. Pronk said humanitarian organizations that left the area during the standoff are returning.

The hostage situation comes at a tense time. A recent escalation of violence in Darfur has plunged the chaotic region further into a state of lawlessness.

A high-ranking U.N. official said recently that the crisis in Darfur has degenerated and warned that calamitous events might spread beyond Sudan's borders if the situation does not improve soon.

The two and a half year conflict began when Darfuri rebels rose against the Khartoum government, complaining of marginalization. Government-backed Arab militias known as janjaweed embarked on a scorched earth campaign to crush the rebellion that has resulted in the deaths of 180,000 people, two million more have been displaced.

Peace talks between Darfuri rebels and the Sudan government ended without a firm agreement last week. A seventh round of talks is to begin next month.