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Canadian kidnapped in Darfur back home

world Updated: Mar 22, 2009 08:34 IST

Laura Archer, one of four Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff kidnapped and released earlier this month in Darfur, refused to speak about her ordeal when returning to Montreal late on Saturday.

"I don't want to talk about what happened. Basically, we were kidnapped, we've got through it. It's over and I'm really, really thrilled to be home safe," she said at an impromptu press briefing at Montreal's airport.

Archer was kidnapped by gunmen along with three fellow MSF colleagues from France, Italy and Sudan on March 11 in the country's civil-war-wracked southwestern Darfur province.

They were all released four days later, with no signs of violence or ransom payment, according to Sudanese and MSF officials. They were flown to Khartoum, where Archer boarded a flight to Belgium.

"My main concern now is not about myself or my colleagues, it's about the people left in Darfur," the Quebec resident said.

The Canadian nurse was working for MSF-Belgium in Saraf Omra, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of El-Fasher, the capital of north Darfur.

"We were the only organization on the ground in Saraf Omra. We were doing over 5,000 consultations every month," she said

"As a result to this incident, this population is receiving no healthcare ... I hope we can all put our energy and our intention on to the people of Darfur."

This first abduction of international aid workers since the beginning of the civil war in Darfur in 2003 took place just 10 days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Earlier this month, the government expelled 13 foreign relief agencies after the arrest warrant was issued, a move the United Nations warned would have a severe impact on aid distribution.

The seizure of the aid workers dealt a fresh blow to relief efforts in the vast region, which is the size of France and relies heavily on food, health and water services provided by relief agencies.

The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the six-year-long conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which puts the figure at only 10,000. An estimated 2.7 million people more have fled their homes.

MSF's Dutch and French chapters were among the 13 groups ordered out of Darfur by the Sudanese government. The Belgian chapter, for which the freed staffers worked, was not expelled but has suspended all of its operations in the wake of the kidnapping.