Saturday, November 6, 2010

Darfur gunmen kidnap Latvian helicopter crew

Gunmen have abducted three Latvian helicopter crewmen with the World Food Programme in Sudan’s Darfur region and militants also shot and wounded a UN peacekeeper, UN officials said yesterday.
The WFP, a UN agency, said the three Latvians, whose air services were contracted for humanitarian operations, were abducted in South Darfur’s state capital of Nyala on Thursday.

In Riga, the foreign ministry said it was co-ordinating in efforts to secure their release.
“We are working closely with Latvia’s appropriate institutions and our foreign partners to find out more detailed information on how we can resolve that problem,” foreign ministry spokesman Janis Silis said.
Abdel Hamid Kasha, the governor of South Darfur, said earlier the three were Russian.

“Last night, unidentified gunmen stormed the home of three Russian pilots working for a private company that has a contract with the WFP and took them to an unknown location,” he said.
“The security services searched for the kidnappers until nightfall” without success, added the governor.
But the WFP spokeswoman in Khartoum, Amor Almagro, said the men were Latvian and said that eight gunmen abducted them.
Russia’s consul in Khartoum, Yevgeny Arzhantsev, told Itar-Tass news agency the crewmen work for Latvian company GM Helicopters. “There are no Russians among the hostages,” he said.
UN sources said the seized crewmen were two pilots and a mechanic.

The kidnapping came as Valerie Amos, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, began a five-day visit to Sudan that is scheduled to include Nyala.
“It is still my intention to visit Nyala. Of course I am extremely concerned about the kidnappings of UN colleagues,” Amos said as her delegation visited southern Sudan.
“It is important that there is no culture of impunity that develops,” she said.
Meanwhile the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (Unamid) announced yesterday that one of its peacekeepers was shot and wounded in a hotspot of north Darfur in a pre-dawn attack.
“Unidentified gunmen shot a Unamid peacekeeper as he was guarding a water point 3km northeast of Kutum in north Darfur,” Unamid said in a statement.
Unamid forces opened fire at the assailants, forcing them to flee, and the peacekeeper was rushed to a medical centre where he is reported to be in stable condition, it said.
Unamid urged the Sudanese authorities “to speedily investigate this wanton incident (and) bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Darfur has seen a wave of kidnappings for ransom since March 2009, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in the strife-torn western region.
The latest comes after a Hungarian civilian worker for Unamid was seized at gunpoint from his home in the Darfur city of El Fasher in early October.
In August, an armed group abducted two Russian pilots from Nyala and two Jordanian police advisers deployed with Unamid were kidnapped at gunpoint.
Thirty people including 26 foreigners have been kidnapped in the war-torn region since March 2009, with all the hostages released unharmed a few days later, except for the Hungarian and now the three Latvians.

Also yesterday, UN officials said that clashes earlier this week between the Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudanese police had killed dozens of people, including 37 police.
Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7mn, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

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