(AFP) 26/08/09

KHARTOUM — Sudan expects that two women aid workers from Ireland and Uganda who have been held hostage in Darfur since July 3 will be freed during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a state minister said Monday.

“We’re expecting good news during Ramadan,” North Darfur state humanitarian affairs minister Abdel Baqi Gilani told AFP. The holiday began in Sudan on Saturday.

Gunmen kidnapped Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki from the offices of the Irish aid group Goal in the North Darfur city of Kutum on July 3.

Their ordeal is the longest endured by foreign aid staff in Darfur since the conflict erupted in the western region in early 2003.

Until March, no aid worker had been held in Darfur for longer than 24 hours.

But that month, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Beshir for alleged war crimes in Darfur, triggering a sharp downturn in Sudan’s relations with foreign relief organisations.

Since then there have been three abductions of aid staff inside Darfur and one in neighbouring Chad.

The kidnappers of the two Goal staff have demanded a ransom for their release.