Ethiopian rebels have released two Irish nurses captured last month during clashes between government forces and guerrilla fighters, a rebel spokesman said Saturday.

A spokesman for the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) said Fiona Quinn and Mary Coenhad had not been kidnapped April 28 in Janso, 250 miles west of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, but were "removed" from the region "for their own safety" during a guerrilla raid on the town.The rebel spokesman, Tadessaa Ebaa, said the two nurses returned Friday to Ireland.

"We would like to assure the Irish people and government that the OLF has nothing against Irish nationals," Ebaa said. "In fact, we have great respect and admiration for the Irish people."

Ebaa said the two nurses, who worked for Irish Concern, an aid organization, had to walk for six days to cover the 50 miles between Janso and the Sudanese border. He said they were met at the border and driven 500 miles over poor dirt roads to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Ebaa said the guerrillas "have no ill feelings against or bad intentions for Fiona and Mary or any aid worker for that matter."

Believed to number fewer than 2,000, the poorly armed OLF is the smallest rebel group in Ethiopia.