Chinese Factory Workers Kidnapped In Egypt Freed

Chinese Factory Workers Kidnapped In Egypt Freed

(Adds comments from Chinese embassy in Cairo)

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Two dozen Chinese cement factory workers kidnapped in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula were freed on Wednesday, a day after being taken hostage by Bedouin tribesmen, Chinese and Egyptian media reported.

On Saturday 29 Chinese workers were captured by rebels in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan, dramatising China's difficulties as it ventures into risky areas, generally shunned by Western companies, in search of resources and business.

The 25 workers freed in Egypt were in good condition, Xinhua news agency said, citing an embassy official there, Ma Jianchun. Egypt's official Middle East News Agency (MENA) also confirmed their release after top security and army officials held talks with captors.

Jianchun told MENA the incident was an isolated one and would not affect Egyptian-Chinese ties or Chinese work in the cement factory.

Bedouin tribesmen kidnapped the 24 cement factory workers and a translator on Tuesday and held them for 15 hours, according to Xinhua.

Tribal sources said the kidnappers were demanding that authorities free fellow tribesmen from prison.

Residents of Sinai say they are neglected by the central government in Cairo, and periodically attack police stations and block access to towns, villages and industrial sites to show their discontent.

The isolated desert region has become more lawless since an uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak a year ago and threw the security apparatus into disarray.

In Sudan, a team of officials China sent to seek the release of the 29 workers arrived in the capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday.

Arnu Ngutulu Lodi of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North told Reuters that rebel officials had met Chinese diplomats in neighbouring Ethiopia to assure them the workers were in good health. But he gave no indication of when they would be freed.

The SPLM-N also asked China to pressure Sudan to open humanitarian corridors to supply the rebel-held South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas with food and emergency aid, though that was not a release condition.

It is the third abduction of Chinese working in energy-rich Sudan since 2004.

Mark Po, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong, said the kidnappings were not likely to deter China from working in trouble spots.

"Chinese companies occupy a pretty big portion of infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges and communications, in third world countries, and this trend will continue," he said. (Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Khartoum and Dina Zayed in Cairo; Editing by Ken Wills, Robert Birsel and Kevin Liffey)

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