PARIS (AP) – Two aid workers held hostage in Darfur, one French and one Canadian, were free Thursday after three weeks in captivity.

The two women, sent to Darfur by non-governmental group International Medical Aid, were in good health, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

International Medical Aid identified the two women as Stephanie Jodoin, of Canada, and Claire Dubois, of France, seized April 4 in southwest Darfur.

Kouchner expressed thanks Thursday to those who helped free the workers. Neither he nor the aid group would elaborate on the release.

“We have handled the case wisely and averted the use of force for the safety of the hostages,” the Sudanese state minister for foreign affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti, told reporters in Khartoum.

Karti was speaking at Al Amal military hospital, where the two women were taken after landing at the Khartoum airport Thursday for medical checkups. They were then formally handed over to a French envoy and a Canadian government representative, Karti said.

The aid workers were then to fly to France.

Sudanese state television showed the minister, standing next to the two freed hostages, saying: “We wish the end of this problem will mark the start of a new page in relations between” France and Sudan.

The freed hostages didn’t speak.

France has been active in international diplomatic efforts with Sudan to end the conflict in Darfur.

The semiofficial Sudan Media Center said 13 kidnappers traveling in two vehicles and on a camel had seized the hostages April 4 and took them to an area about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the town of al-Genaina in west Darfur.

The Sudan Media Center said no ransom was paid to free them, and that a tribal chief mediated the release.

The center, quoting an unidentified security official, said the kidnapping was linked to resentment in Darfur over the 2007 kidnapping by a French aid group of about 100 children in the region.

Six members of the group, Zoe’s Ark, were arrested in Chad as they sought to take the children on an airplane to France to be adopted.

Zoe’s Ark said the children were orphans from Darfur, but they were found to be from neighboring Chad and most had a living parent or close adult relative. The incident strained relations between France and Chad.

International Medical Aid expressed “deep relief” at their employees’ release but said its activities in Darfur remain suspended while it evaluates the situation.

“Attacks on humanitarian workers put in danger vulnerable populations whose essential needs they are trying to meet,” the statement said.

The father of the Canadian aid worker spoke with her after her release, and said she was doing well. Denis Jodoin said from his home in Mont-Saint-Hilaire in Quebec that the family is “very happy” she is safe and sound.

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