Peacekeeping civilians kidnapped in Darfur

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Armed men seized two foreign civilians working for Darfur’s peacekeeping force, the first time the joint UN/AU mission has been targeted by kidnappers.
The Nigerian man and the Tanzanian woman were taken by raiders from their residence in the politically charged town of Zalingei in west Darfur early in the morning, peacekeeping and government officials told Reuters.

Armed groups have kidnapped three groups of foreign aid workers in Darfur since March, piling pressure on the strife-torn region’s relief effort, already reeling from bandit attacks, car-jackings and government expulsions.

But this was the first time they have taken staff from UNAMID, a largely African mission of soldiers and police which is supposed to keep the peace in a region the size of Spain.

UNAMID spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said the kidnapping of UNAMID staff was a worrying development. “We are appealing to them to release the captives. We are here to help the people of Darfur,” he said, adding the kidnappers had phoned the force soon after the abduction saying they were ready to talk.

Mezni declined to give details of the kidnappers’ demands but Sudanese State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani told Reuters they were bandits.
“They have asked for a ransom. They never claimed to be some sort of rebels,” Jailani said.

The kidnapping happened two days after UNAMID’s departing commander, Martin Luther Agwai, told reporters that Darfur suffered from banditry but was no longer in a state of war.

ICC warrant raises hostility

Aid workers say they have experienced increased hostility in the region since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on war crimes charges in March.

Khartoum expelled 13 foreign groups and shut down three local ones after the ICC issued its warrant, accusing them of passing information to the court which the groups deny doing.

Two women from Irish charity GOAL remain in captivity after being snatched in early July.

Zalingei, around 100 km (60 miles) from the Chadian border, is the birthplace of some of Darfur’s best-known rebels, including Sudan Liberation Army founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, and is a hotbed of anti-government sentiment.

Al-Nur, now based in Paris, denied that any of his rebel fighters were responsible for the kidnap, and pointed the finger at government-allied militias.
“This is the continuation of the government’s campaign to terrorise people on the ground. They want to complicate the mission of anyone helping the people of Darfur,” he said.

Jailani denied government-backed militias were involved.

Al-Nur said the kidnap showed the weakness of UNAMID’s mandate. “UNAMID’s first job is to protect civilians but they are not able to protect themselves. We need a mandate for peacemakers, not peacekeepers.”

Al-Nur was among rebels who took up arms in Darfur in 2003, accusing the government of neglecting the development of the region and demanding better representation.

Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists have described as genocide. Estimates of the death count range from 10 000 according to Khartoum to up to 300 000 according to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes. 

Pic: Darfur rebel