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Officials: UN air crew kidnapped in Darfur

Three Bulgarians flying aircraft for the World Food Program in Sudan were kidnapped Thursday in its troubled western Darfur region, officials said.

Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry identified the air crew as three of its citizens working for a Bulgarian airline contracted to the United Nations, which manages a massive humanitarian effort in a region ravaged by a seven-year-old rebellion against the central government.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella in Geneva said the men were working for the WFP-run U.N. Humanitarian Air Service. "The incident happened at a landing strip at Um Shalaya 60 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Geneina," she said referring to the provincial capital of West Darfur state.

A WFP spokeswoman in Sudan, Amor Almagro, said the Bulgarians were kidnapped Thursday morning.

Vasil Valko, the CEO of the private Bulgarian airline that contracted the crew to the United Nations, said the company has no information on the kidnappers, but that a U.N. rescue effort was under way.

The uprising by the ethnic African inhabitants in 2003 protesting neglect by the Arab-dominated central government provoked a savage response causing the deaths of 300,000 people and the displacement of 2.7 million, according to the United Nations.

Fighting has since subsided, but there has been a notable rise in the kidnapping of foreign aid workers, with word of a new incident almost every month. In December three Latvian pilots working for the U.N. were released after a month in captivity.

On Wednesday, UNAMID reported that three local aid workers from the Catholic Relief Agency had been released after being held for three days.

A number of peace deals and agreements have failed to end the conflict, and a current round of peace talks is bogged down by mistrust between the government and rebels, and infighting between rebel groups.