A rebel group abducted 18 members of an African Union team in Darfur on Sunday but released most of them after negotiating with the organization, officials said.
The African Union personnel were seized a day after two A.U. peacekeepers, both Nigerians, were killed in an ambush blamed on another guerrilla force in the western Sudanese region. A third Nigerian soldier died from his injuries after being shot in the neck during that attack, an A.U. spokesman in Khartoum said Sunday.
"We are worried by the two incidents. . . . We are worried because this is targeting the A.U. as a fighting force, although the A.U. is there as a peace force," said Adam Thiam, an A.U. spokesman in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the union in headquartered. The deaths were the first for the A.U. force.
The freed hostages, who had been held near the border with Chad, were on their way back on foot to the area's main town.
"Most have been released, but it is not clear how many," said Noureddine Mezni, another A.U. spokesman. Mezni, who did not give details on the talks with the kidnappers, said earlier reports had indicated that 16 of the 18 were being freed but that had not been confirmed.
The acting head of the A.U. mission in Sudan, Jean-Baptiste Natama, earlier said those kidnapped included a rebel representative and a U.S. observer. The U.S. Embassy said it could not confirm that an American was among the hostages.
Darfur rebels from non-Arab African tribes took up arms against government forces in early 2003, citing discrimination and oppression. They have accused the government of unleashing Arab tribal militiamen known as the Janjaweed against civilians in a terror campaign. An estimated 180,000 people have died in the crisis, mainly through disease and hunger, and 2 million have been displaced.
The African Union mission in Darfur began in April 2004 with fewer than 500 peacekeepers and has grown to 6,200 with financial and logistical support from the European Union, the United States and others.