Four South African peacekeepers kidnapped in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region earlier this month were released overnight, the United Nations says.
The two men and two women from the joint UN/African Union UNAMID mission were kidnapped on April 11 from the region’s main town Nyala, the latest in a wave of abductions of foreign workers by young men demanding ransoms.
“We are grateful to have our colleagues back with us,” UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari said in a statement. “This day would not have been possible had it not been for the good cooperation of the government of the Sudan and the local authorities of South Darfur.”
A spokesman for a group calling itself the Movement for the Popular Struggle said on April 20 that they were holding the peacekeepers and had agreed with the government to release them. The spokesman said his group had not been paid the ransom of around $450,000 it had originally demanded. Kidnappings of foreigners increased last year after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes in the region, charges he denies.
The UN statement said Gambari held a meeting on Sunday with Bashir, who had “pledged to do everything possible to assist in bringing about the safe return of the UNAMID personnel.” Sudan’s National Elections Commission confirmed on Monday that Bashir was elected president after five days of voting last week, a victory he hopes will legitimize his government in defiance of the ICC.
In November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Khartoum of harassing and limiting movements of UNAMID in violation of an agreement on the peacekeepers’ deployment. The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur. A counter-insurgency campaign drove more than 2 million people from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people died, but Khartoum rejects that figure.