CAIRO - Egyptian locals have freed the 25 Chinese workers they held on Tuesday in Arish, North Sinai, an official with the Chinese embassy to Cairo said early Wednesday.
The workers were in good condition, Ma Jianchun, commercial affairs counsellor of the embassy told Xinhua.
They were freed at around 3 am local time (0100 GMT) on Wednesday after being held for about 15 hours. They now stayed in a military hotel in Arish and waited for further arrangements, said Ma, who met the workers shortly after their release.
"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 we were like dreaming 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 five 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 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.
In efforts to seek the release of the Chinese workers, Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Song Aiguo on Tuesday talked with officials of the Egyptian interior and defense ministries, urging the Egyptian side to put the safety of the Chinese workers first and secure their release as soon as possible.
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 early as possible, and strengthen the security for Chinese nationals and businesses in Egypt.
The ministry reminded Chinese institutions and nationals overseas to be more wary of safety risks and strengthen preventative measures and contact China's diplomatic missions in emergent situations.
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.