Sudan’s security services have pinpointed the area where armed men are holding two abducted female aid workers in Darfur, but have yet to contact the kidnappers, a government minister said today.
Up to eight men seized the workers for Irish aid group GOAL, one Ugandan and one Irish, from their compound in the north Darfur town of Kutum last week, the third kidnapping of foreigners in the remote western region in four months.
“The information that I received this morning is that the area where these people are hiding has been located,” Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani told Reuters.
“Still there is no contact, but I am optimistic we will see progress soon.”
The minister declined to name the area for fear of jeopardising negotiations. He added security forces had also asked local Darfuri leaders to try to persuade the abductors to release the captives.
“They will have their own ways and means to track down the exact location,” he said. “Priority number one for us is the safety of the two ladies.”
No one was immediately available to comment from GOAL, or a team of Irish diplomats and negotiators who have set up bases in Khartoum and El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, to help with efforts to free the women.
GOAL, which named the kidnapped women as Hilda Kawuki, 42, from Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, from Dublin, has suspended operations in the area.
A branch of Darfur’s rebel Sudan Liberation Army, active in the territory, earlier this week denied any involvement and accused government-backed militias of abducting the women, saying Khartoum wanted to intimidate foreign aid groups in Darfur.
Sudan’s government dismissed the allegation.
The six-year Darfur conflict has pitted pro-government militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region.
Aid groups helping run the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur say they have faced growing hostility since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March to face charges of masterminding atrocities in Darfur.
Government officials have in the past accused some aid workers in Darfur of spying for Western governments.