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Govt claims they know where kidnap victims are


Latest update : 2009-03-13

The Sudanese government says it has located the kidnapped employees of the volunteer medical NGO Doctors Without Borders. They claim that the kidnappers were "bandits."

REUTERS - The Sudanese government has located three international aid workers from the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres taken in Darfur and is in contact with the kidnappers, a foreign ministry official said on Friday.

"We know where they are ... We have established a link with them and we are discussing their terms," Mutrif Siddig, undersecretary at the foreign ministry, told Reuters.

A Sudanese official said the three were "okay" and that the government -- which last week expelled 13 international relief agencies from war-torn Darfur -- was working to release them as soon as possible.

The three workers from MSF's Belgian arm were seized along with two Sudanese as tension rose in Sudan following the International Criminal Court's decision last week to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over accusations of war crimes in Darfur.

Kebir, quoted by the online Sudanese Media Centre, said: "Negotiations with the abductors are progressing well and could result in the release of the victims soon."

"The kidnappers demanded a financial ransom and have promised that they are not interested in violence."

Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF Belgium, told reporters in Brussels: "This will be a further blow to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in that area, so the consequences are also extremely worrying for the population, the civilians of Darfur."

MSF in Belgium said the two Sudanese were quickly released but the three foreigners were still being held. It identified them as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator. Catholic missionary news agency MISNA gave their names as Laura Archer, Mauro D'Ascanio and Raphael Meonier.

Sudan shut down 16 aid organisations after the ICC decision, saying they had helped the court in The Hague, an accusation aid groups deny. Two arms of MSF were among those asked to leave, although MSF Belgium was not among them.

Kebir said the North Darfur authorities had ordered police protection for all offices and residences of foreign organisations operating in the state.

But MSF said it would withdraw most staff from Darfur where conflict has simmered since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in the western region, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

"Medecins Sans Frontieres is in the process of withdrawing its last teams from the field, from Darfur. The only staff who will be staying there will be dedicated to the liberation of our colleagues," MSF Belgium's Stokes said.

Sudan's foreign ministry condemned the kidnappings and said the abducted aid workers were thought to be in good health and had not been harmed.

"I promise this conduct will never be repeated. I want to confirm that the government is ready to provide security for all the NGOs," the head of Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission, Hassabo Mohamed Abd el-Rahman, told reporters.

Money may have been a motive, he said.

The kidnapping took place in Saraf Omra in north Darfur, where MSF Belgium runs a health clinic and dispensary serving tens of thousands of people, said Susan Sandars, an MSF spokeswoman in Nairobi, Kenya. UNAMID said the kidnapping took place late on Wednesday, while Sudan said it was on Thursday.

In one speech last week Bashir said the expelled groups were "spies and thieves," and a pro-government newspaper printed a photo of one international aid worker, saying the officer was an intelligence officer for Israel, an arch-foe of Sudan.

Date created : 2009-03-13