The Sudanese military has freed 14 Chinese workers “kidnapped” by rebels in the country’s South Kordofan state, the official SUNA news agency reported on Monday.
“SAF troops succeeded in freeing 14 of the Chinese workers,” SUNA quoted state governor Ahmad Harun as saying.
Harun said the Chinese were in good condition and had been taken to nearby al-Obeid in neighboring North Kordofan.
The fate of other Chinese reported captured with the group was not immediately clear.
China confirmed on Sunday that some of its nationals had “gone missing” after rebels on Saturday attacked the camp of a Chinese company, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It quoted an embassy official as saying more than 20 Chinese were missing, a figure also given by a senior executive at Power Construction Corp of China, their employer.
Rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) told AFP they had captured 29 Chinese.
Neither the rebels nor Chinese embassy officials could be reached on Monday.
SPLM-N spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi earlier told AFP the Chinese were “in safe hands”.
He said they were captured along with nine members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on Saturday when the rebels destroyed a Sudanese military convoy between Rashad town and al-Abbasiya in the northeast of the province, which has been at war since June.
Lodi denied the Chinese had been kidnapped.
Al-Abbasiya has now been secured, SUNA quoted governor Harun as saying.
The Chinese were involved in a road-building project, the executive from Power Construction Corp told Xinhua.
China is Sudan’s major trading partner, the largest buyer of Sudanese oil, and a key military supplier to the regime in Khartoum.
There is growing international concern over the situation in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile state, where a similar conflict broke out in September.
The government is fighting ethnic minority insurgents once allied to the former rebels who now rule South Sudan.
The South gained independence from Khartoum last July after decades of civil war.
Food shortages would become critical without substantial aid deliveries into South Kordofan and Blue Nile by March, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has said.
Khartoum has severely restricted the work of foreign relief agencies in the war zones.
It cited security concerns and also accused aid workers of using United Nations flights to deliver arms and ammunition to the rebels -- a claim for which the U.N.’s top humanitarian official said there was “no evidence”.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S. administration’s special envoy for Sudan, told reporters last week the situation is so dire Washington has warned Khartoum it would consider ways for aid to be sent in without Sudanese government approval.