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Sudan police search for kidnapped aid workers

By on July 5, 2009

Sudanese security services were searching on Saturday for two kidnapped female aid workers, one Ugandan and one Irish, taken from their compound in Darfur, said Irish humanitarian group Goal which employs the women.

Armed men seized the two from their base in the north Darfur town of Kutum on Friday evening, in the third abduction of foreign aid staff in the territory in four months.

Goal, which named the kidnapped women as Hilda Kawuki, 42, from Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, from Dublin, pulled its remaining staff out of the town as Sudanese police started their investigation.

“All relocatable staff are in El Fasher (the capital of north Darfur). It would be impossible to go back to business as usual until this situation is resolved,” Goal’s Sudan country director Flora Hillis told Reuters.

“National security and police have set off in the direction that the kidnappers’ vehicle was supposed to have taken.”

Goal founder John O’Shea told Irish state radio he had not heard from the kidnappers or received any information about their motive. “We are very much in the dark,” he said.

Ireland’s President Mary McAleese released a statement saying she had contacted Commins’ family to express “her sincere hope that Sharon will be returned to safety as soon as possible, along with her colleague, Ms Hilda Kawuki”.

Aid groups in Darfur say they have faced increased hostility since March, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of masterminding war crimes in the region.

Sudan’s government has accused some aid workers of working as spies for Western governments and Khartoum expelled 13 humanitarian groups after the ICC’s decision, accusing them of helping the Hague-based court build up its case.

Darfur’s rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which is active in some areas surrounding Kutum, denied any involvement and blamed government-backed militias for the kidnapping.

Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs on Saturday dismissed the accusation, saying authorities were doing all they could to locate the kidnappers.

“The government of Sudan has nothing to gain from these activities,” said Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol at the ministry.

“The government is following the case closely. It is trying to identify the kidnappers, their whereabouts and what demands they have. The government is keen to secure a safe resolution.”

Two groups of foreign aid workers kidnapped in Darfur in March and April were released unharmed.

U.N. agencies and aid groups are running the world’s largest humanitarian operation on Darfur, helping 4.7 million caught up in more than six years of fighting.

Violence surged when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of marginalising the region. Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the rebellion.

Estimates of the resulting death toll range from 10,000, according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes.

Reuters.

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