Chinese workers kidnapped by Sudan rebels in South Kordofan (UPDATES)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Rebels in Sudan's restive South Kordofan region have kidnapped 29 Chinese construction workers.

Chinese officials on Monday denied a report that 14 of the 29 had been freed by the Sudanese military.

The workers were reportedly building a road when their camp was attacked late Saturday by Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North rebels during fighting between the SPLM-N and the Sudanese army.

An unidentified Chinese embassy official in Khartoum told Xinhua, the state news agency, that 29 workers were abducted in the attack, while another 17 fled and are now at "a safe place." One Chinese worker is still unaccounted for.

"The Chinese Embassy has started implementation of the emergency mechanism to follow up the issue and make contacts with the Sudanese authorities in this respect," an embassy official told Xinhua on Sunday.

More from GlobalPost: African Union's new Chinese-built headquarters opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A rebel leader told Agence France-Presse that the workers are in good health.

"Yes, we have captured them," Arnu Ngutulu Lodi of the SPLM-N told AFP. "I want to assure you right now they are in safe hands."

Sudan's official news agency quoted South Kordofan state governor Ahmed Haroun as praising Chinese infrastructure projects in the country.

"This attack targets the security and stability of these companies and tends to halt the big development projects in the state. Everybody is aware that the Chinese company is operating on a vital sector of the circular road which has been a dream for the people of the state, particularly at the eastern part, for tens of years," Haroun was quoted as saying.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing that emergency meetings have been held with Sudanese officials.

"Currently, the Sudanese government is doing their utmost to locate and rescue the missing Chinese nationals and has enhanced protection for other Chinese nationals in Sudan," Liu said, in response to questions from the press.

More from GlobalPost: Zambian election results check Chinese influence in Africa

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.