Islamist militants in Mali have released unharmed three European aid workers -- two Spaniards and an Italian -- they had abducted from a refugee camp in western Sahara last year, it was announced late on Wednesday.
The three aid workers released by the Islamist militant group Mujao were identified as Spanish nationals Ainhoa Fernandez Rincon and Enrico Gonyans, and Italian citizen Rosella Urru.
Italian and Spanish Diplomats said the trio would soon be flown to their home countries from Mali. Nevertheless, they did not disclose whether any ransom was paid for securing their release.
The three European aid workers were abducted last October from the Rabuni camp, housing mainly Sahrawi refugees from western Sahara, by the militants in northern Mali. The camp is being run by the Polisario Front, which is seeking independence for western Sahara from Morocco.
Morocco has been ruling over western Sahara ever since it occupied the territory after Mauritania pulled out in 1979. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front has been campaigning for the region's independence since then.
Polisario had earlier blamed a faction of al-Qaeda's north Africa wing based in Mali for the kidnappings. The northern Mali-based Mujao militant group, suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda's north African branch, had later claimed responsibility for their abduction.
The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to have established itself in the Sahara desert between Algeria, Mali and Niger. The group emerged in 2007 as an offshoot of an Algerian militant outfit before aligning itself with the global terror network founded by Osama bin Laden.
Currently, a large portion of northern Mali is under the control of the Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants who want to impose Islamic laws across the whole of the West African State. They captured the region in late March amidst the chaos triggered by a military coup, and have since declared independence for the region they call 'Azawad.'
However, most of the international community has rejected the rebels' independence declaration, and urged all sides involved to engage in talks to resolve the issue. It is estimated that the conflict has forced more than 320,000 people to flee northern Mali.
by RTT Staff Writer
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