NAIROBI - Twenty-nine Chinese nationals abducted by local rebels in Sudan last month arrived on Tuesday afternoon at the Wilson Airport in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
The Chinese who were working at a construction site in Sudan had earlier boarded a plane chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sudan shortly after being released by the rebels. They reached the Kenyan airport at around 5:35 pm local time after 11 days in captivity.
The freed Chinese, some frail-looking, bearded and in T-shirts, are expected to set off for China after a short stay in Nairobi.
"I feel good," one of them told Xinhua reporters at the airport.
The workers appeared at the airport flanked by Chinese officials including Liu Guangyuan, Chinese Ambassador to Kenya and Qiu Xuejun, the head of the Chinese team in Sudan to assist the rescue operation.
Qiu told Xinhua that the rescue operation was a complete success.
"The 29 people are generally in sound physical condition and in stable moods," he said. "After a brief adjustment in Kenya, they will be arranged to fly home as soon as possible."
Chinese Ambassador Liu signed the papers with Christoph Luedi, head of ICRC's Region Delegation at the airport before the handover.
"This is an excellent cooperation...very close (cooperation)," said Luedi at the airport. "Cooperation between the Chinese embassy here and the Chinese embassy in Sudan and other authorities in Kenya are very smooth."
The official, who went with the chartered planes in the morning to pick the released Chinese workers, said he could see that the workers were quite relieved at the Sudanese airport.
"This morning they were brought to the airport without any information about what happened. When they saw two planes coming in, they realized there is hope and they can go," he said.
"When they saw the Chinese people coming, speaking to them in their language, they were quite happy and they were happy to get some food and drinks on the plane. Of course some of them were really tired. They got some sleep on the plane," he added.
In the Nairobian hotel where the workers were later taken to, Xia Wenlue, 29, one of the two female workers in the incident told Xinhua that she had called her family after the release.
"My husband picked up the phone and I told him I am safe now," the mother of a 10-year-old child said.
"I want to go back home as soon as possible," Xia added.
According to Wen Jiahai, a senior official with the Chinese company said a majority of the released workers have their families in Chengdu, capital city of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Chinese Foreign Ministry on late Tuesday issued a statement, expressing appreciation and sincere gratitude for the unremitting efforts made in the peaceful and safe rescue work by relevant parties, including Sudan and South Sudan, as well as related parties such as the ICRC, said the statement.
In the statement, China also expressed gratitude for Kenya, the United Nations and other countries, organizations and people who extended support, assistance and concern over the issue. The Chinese were held on Jan 28, when a group of gunmen belonging to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) north sector attacked their camp of a Chinese company operating at a road construction site near Sudan's Al-Abbasiya Tagali Town in the volatile South Kordofan State.
A total of 47 Chinese were in the camp then, among whom 29 were abducted by the assailants while the other 18 managed to fled to neighboring areas. Among the latter, 17 were later found by the Sudanese army and transferred to a safe place, and one was confirmed dead after having been missing for days.
The Sudanese authorities on Tuesday handed over the body of the dead Chinese worker to the Chinese side.
The release came after a stream of intensive rescue efforts carried out by the Chinese government in collaboration with the Sudanese government, the ICRC and other parties.
On Jan 31, a six-member Chinese mission arrived in Khartoum, capital of Sudan, to assist the local Chinese embassy in the rescue operation and to hold consultations with the Sudanese authorities.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Monday that the country was using multiple channels and making every possible effort to rescue the captives.