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25 Chinese workers held by locals in Egypt's Sinai

(Xinhua)

08:44, February 01, 2012

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-five Chinese nationals working for a cement factory in Egypt were held Tuesday by some local people in the northern Sinai town of Arish, officials at the Chinese embassy in Cairo told Xinhua.

The Chinese -- 24 workers and a translator-- were riding a bus to their plant, when they were stopped at around 11:40 a.m. local time (0940 GMT) by locals on a road in Arish and then taken to a makeshift tent nearby, commercial affairs counsellor of the embassy Ma Jianchun told Xinhua.

A working team dispatched by the Chinese embassy arrived in Arish Tuesday evening. Ma, who led the team, said the Chinese workers were held in a place some 10 kilometers from Arish.

Ma said the team was coordinating with local police and had contacted the provincial government and the local intelligence department.

Local security forces and tribal leaders were negotiating with the Bedouins, said Ma.

The workers had just returned from their holidays in China to the project site via Arish. Locals have been blocking the road for several days, demanding the release of their five relatives detained by Egyptian authorities because of their suspected involvement in the attacks which occurred in South Sinai between 2004 and 2006 and left dozens dead. They also demanded Egyptian authorities halt natural gas exports to Israel.

The Chinese company's representatives had managed to send coats, medicine and food to the Chinese workers through local employees, Ma said.

Earlier, Zhang Zhizhong, consular affairs director of the embassy, said the Chinese workers were safe and some kept contact with the embassy through mobile phone.

Chinese Ambassador Song Aiguo also talked with officials of the Egyptian interior and defense ministries, urging the Egyptian side to put the safety of the Chinese workers first, properly handle the incident and secure their release as soon as possible.

The security situation has deteriorated in Sinai since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Armed men have bombed the 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.

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