|Photo taken on Feb. 1, 2012 shows the Chinese workers after being freed in Arish, North Sinai, Egypt. Egyptian locals have freed the 25 Chinese workers they held on Tuesday, an official with the Chinese embassy to Cairo said early Wednesday. (Xinhua/Ahmad Razk)
CAIRO, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian locals have freed the 25 Chinese workers they held on Tuesday in Arish, North Sinai, officials with the Chinese embassy to Cairo said Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the workers returned to the cement plant they work, some 70 km from Arish, with the escort of local military vehicles and Chinese embassy officials, Chinese embassador to Egypt Song Aiguo told Xinhua.
Sayyed Mabrouk, governor of North Sinai, met with the workers in a hotel on Wednesday morning. He vowed to strengthen the protection of Chinese workers. Ma Jianchun, commercial affairs counsellor and head of the embassy team, expressed thanks to the governor for the efforts of Egyptian side to free the Chinese workers.
The Chinese -- 24 workers and a translator -- were in good shape, Ma said after their release. They were freed at around 3 a. m. local time (0100 GMT) Wednesday after being held for about 15 hours in a roadside tent, about 10 km from Arish.
"We were worried and nervous after being held by the locals. However, the Chinese embassy kept contact with us through cellphone text messages and was making efforts to rescue us, which made us feel relieved a lot," a 25-year-old worker surnamed Pan told Xinhua after his release.
Pan said they did not suffer any physical harm or loss of personal property in the process. "We really thank a lot for the Chinese government, embassy and the efforts of Egyptian authorities," he said.
The Chinese embassy and the company of the workers managed to send food, clothes and medicine to them through locals while the workers were held.
"We had expected the problem be solved in one or two days. But it was settled so quickly. We felt like a dream," Pan said.
The Chinese workers were held on Tuesday by local Bedouins in Arish while riding a bus on a road to a cement plant after ending their holidays in China. The locals then took them to a nearby tent.
The locals have been blocking the road for several days, demanding the release of their relatives detained by Egyptian authorities because of their suspected involvement in attacks in South Sinai between 2004 and 2006, which left dozens dead.
Local tribal leaders were mobilized by Egyptian authorities for negotiations over the release of the Chinese.
"After arriving in Arish on Tuesday evening, we were holding talks with local police and intelligence authorities without any rest to seek their earlier release," said Ma.
"The Egyptian government attached great importance to the matter. Its military leaders urged local authorities to take good care of the freed Chinese workers," Ma told Xinhua in the early hours on Wednesday.
The security situation has deteriorated in Sinai since the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Armed men have bombed pipelines in Arish supplying natural gas to Israel and Jordan at least 10 times. A local police station was attacked last year, leaving several people dead.
Prior to the release of the 25 workers, the Chinese embassy in Cairo had urgently asked the Egyptian side to take all necessary measures to ensure their safety, work for their release as soon as possible, and strengthen the security for Chinese nationals and businesses in Egypt.
The Chinese embassy on Tuesday contacted officials of Egyptian interior and defense ministries over the incident.
China's Foreign Ministry has reminded Chinese institutions and nationals overseas to be more aware of safety risks, enhance preventative measures and contact China's diplomatic missions in case of emergencies.
In a separate case, a Chinese team arrived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Tuesday to help rescue 29 Chinese workers who have been held by rebels after a Saturday attack on their camp in southern Sudan.
China closely watching workers being held in Egypt, FM says
BEIJING, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- China's Foreign Ministry is paying great attention to the incident that 25 Chinese workers were held Tuesday by some local people in Egypt, and the Chinese embassy in Cairo is urgently pursuing the matter with the Egyptian side, the ministry said early Wednesday in a press release.
The Foreign Ministry launched an emergency response mechanism right after the incident and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made related working arrangements immediately, according to the press release. Full story