Friday, October 8, 2010

Armed men kidnap Peace Men - keeper in Sudan's Darfur

Armed men abducted a civilian peacekeeper in the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state Thursday hours after U.N. Security Council envoys arrived in the city, the mission said.

It was believed to be the first time kidnappers had seized a foreigner in El Fasher, a development certain to dismay aid officials in Darfur who have pulled staff back to the main towns to escape a wave of abductions in remote locations.
"Today in the evening, armed men entered the residence of four civilian staff members in downtown El Fasher. They tied up two of them and made away with the other two in a vehicle. One man escaped and the other is still missing," said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the joint UN/African Union force UNAMID.

Saiki said the missing man was not Sudanese but gave no other personal details.

Sudanese security forces sealed off the main exits from the city, seeking the UNAMID vehicle that the kidnappers used to escape, he added.

Saiki it was believed to be the first time an international worker had been kidnapped in the center of El Fasher. "We have had carjackings and house break-ins, but no abductions."

He said the attackers had threatened the four civilians inside the house and made them lie on the floor at gunpoint.

Foreign peacekeepers and aid workers have been the targets of a series of kidnappings in Darfur in recent months, many of them blamed on gangs of young men seeking ransoms.

Hostile crowds greeted the UN envoys when they arrived in El Fasher Thursday as part of a week-long visit to press for progress in Sudan's faltering peace efforts in the seven-year Darfur conflict, as well as on the 2005 settlement that ended decades of north-south civil war.

Hours before they arrived, Sudan's army said it launched attacks on rebel positions 160 km (100 miles) southwest of El Fasher, an illustration of the challenges facing mediators trying to settle the conflict.

The envoys, including Washington's UN ambassador Susan Rice, were due to visit North Darfur's governor and residents of a refugee camp Friday before flying to Khartoum.

Sudan's government and aid agencies have denied paying a ransom for hostages. Rumors of large payments were believed to have stimulated abductions. So far all those seized have eventually been released unharmed.

At least 22 peacekeepers and aid workers have been kidnapped in Darfur since the conflict's first reported abduction of a foreigner in March 2009.

That month, aid groups in Darfur reported a surge of hostility against their workers after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al- Bashir on charges of ordering war crimes in Darfur.

The conflict flared in 2003 in Darfur when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglecting the region. A series of ceasefires, negotiations and international campaigns has failed to end the fighting and law and order has collapsed in most of the region. 

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