An Irish aid worker has phoned her family for the first time since being kidnapped in Sudan's conflict stricken Darfur in July, fueling cautious hopes for her release, officials said on Friday.
The contact from aid worker Sharon Commins comes a few days after Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin visited the north African country to press Khartoum over the case.
"The foreign minister requested that Sharon talk to her mother who needed some support," Abdel Baqi Gilani, state humanitarian affairs minister, told AFP.
"We are still in negotiations. In two months, there has been some up and down but what happened yesterday is something positive, it shows our plan works well," he said.
Gilani said the other kidnapped aid worker, Ugandan Hilda Kawuki, is expected to speak to her mother in Uganda or her sister in London on Friday.
The minister, who said he was "optimistic" about the women's release said both were in "good health, mentally and physically", adding that they had not been tortured.
An Irish foreign ministry spokesman earlier told AFP that Commins had made the phone call.
"She spoke to her family on Thursday. It was her first opportunity to speak to her family," the spokesman said, declining to elaborate. "The family have asked that we respect their privacy."
Commins, 32, from Clontarf, Dublin, was kidnapped in the North Darfur town of Kutum along with Kawuki on July 3. They were taken by a gang of armed men from a compound run by Irish aid agency GOAL.
The Irish spokesman described the phone call as a "hopeful sign, while saying: "We don't want to raise expectations too much. Our inter-agency team remains in Sudan and the minister is in continuing contact with the Sudanese government."
Ireland's foreign minister voiced cautious hope after a two-day visit to Khartoum last weekend, stressing to the authorities the urgency of action to have the two women freed.
The pair were snatched by armed men who have demanded a ransom.
Gilani told the Irish Times that the women could be freed possibly around September 19, when Muslims in Sudan celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The two aid workers' 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.
However, the International Criminal Court in March 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.