Four peacekeepers belonging to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) have been kidnapped by unknown gunmen in the restive western Sudanese region of Darfur, a source has told the Chinese state Xinhua news agency.
The anonymous UNAMID source says the four South African peacekeepers, two male and two female, were stopped by some 10 gunmen when they were driving from their working site to their private accommodation near Nyala, the capital city of the South Darfur state, on Sunday.
The source quoted witnesses as saying that the four policemen were forced to step off their vehicle at gunpoint. No armed group in Darfur has made contacts with the UNAMID to claim responsibility for the kidnapping, the source noted. UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni has refused to confirm or deny the kidnapping, noting that the four peacekeepers were reported missing since Sunday. “I can not confirm or deny this report (of the kidnapping), I have no confirmations on what had happened,” the spokesman said on Tuesday.
The UN News Service says the blue helmets were last seen about 4pm local time as they departed their team site close to Nyala. They had been headed on a seven-kilometre journey towards their private accommodation but never reached their destination. UNAMID issued a statement yesterday saying it had mobilised its resources in the region to search for the missing staff. The mission said it is also working closely with the Sudanese Government and local authorities in a bid to locate the peacekeepers. “There have been no sightings of our staff and we are deeply concerned for their will-being,” said Ibrahim Gambari, the head of UNAMID and the Joint Special Representative of the AU and UN in Darfur, which has been beset by conflict since 2003. UNAMID has been in place in the region since the start of 2008. The mission includes 165 South African police.
The disappearance of the peacekeepers has occurred as millions of Sudanese go to the polls to vote in the first presidential and parliamentary elections in 24 years. Voting began yesterday and is expected to continue for several days this week. Last week the European Union announced it was withdrawing its observers from Darfur because of security concerns, and there have been tensions between Government and opposition activists during the election campaign.
The last foreign hostage in Darfur, Red Cross worker Gauthier Lefevre, was released last month after 147 days in captivity.
Aid workers in western Sudan had hoped his release would mark an end to the kidnappings, which had limited their ability to help the more than 2 million Darfuris who have fled fighting and sought shelter and food in miserable camps.
The abductions began after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last year, accusing him of war crimes in Darfur. He denies the charges.
Bashir hopes to be elected president in the first open polls in Sudan in 24 years which began on Sunday in defiance of the ICC warrant.
Since a revolt by mostly non-Arab rebels seven years ago, carjackings and banditry have been rife in the remote region bordering Chad.