Kidnapped bomb disposal experts freed in Guinea-Bissau

Nine bomb disposal experts kidnapped by separatist rebels in Senegal in May were released on Friday in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau.

The hostages -- all Senegalese -- were handed to the Guinea Bissau army in Cassalol, a village near the border shared by the west African nations, according to a journalist from AFP who was at the scene.

"I am freeing the bomb disposal experts in the name of Casamance," said Cesar Atoute Badiate, head of the kidnappers, a rebel group fighting for autonomy in the southern Senegalese region.

The men, all looking healthy, made no statement as they were handed to representatives of Mom Ku Mom, an organisation involved in conflict mediation in Guinea-Bissau.

The nine were part of a group of 12 experts abducted on May 3 by the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces, which has been fighting for independence for some three decades.

Three female hostages were already released on May 27.

The fighting has claimed thousands of lives and displaced thousands more, but no precise figures are available.

Hundreds of the casualties have been caused by anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.