Irish team in Sudan to help kidnapped aid staff

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Irish diplomats and negotiators flew in to Khartoum yesterday to help in efforts to free two female aid workers kidnapped in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The two women from Irish aid group GOAL, one Ugandan and one Irish, were abducted from their compound in the north Darfur town of Kutum last week, the third time foreign humanitarian workers have been seized in Darfur in four months.
The Irish delegation, including ambassador to Egypt Gerard Corr and officials from the Foreign Affairs Department, arrived in Khartoum airport early yesterday.
“This is a very high level delegation that is here to negotiate and do everything that is possible to free the hostages,” said Ireland’s honorary consul in Khartoum, Ronnie Shaoul, as he waited at the airport.
“They will be meeting the Ugandan ambassador and officials from all the appropriate ministries. We have had a lot of support from officials here.” He said the team included trained negotiators.
Sudan’s foreign ministry said a joint Irish-Ugandan team would travel to El Fasher, capital of north Darfur, today, to help with negotiations.
GOAL has named the kidnapped women as Hilda Kawuki, 42, from Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, from Dublin.
The aid group’s representative in Sudan, Flora Hillis, told Reuters yesterday she had heard nothing from the kidnappers or her staff.
Two groups of foreign aid workers kidnapped in Darfur in March and April were released unharmed.
The kidnappers of foreign staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres in March said they were protesting against the ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Aid groups in Darfur say they have faced increased hostility since the warrant was issued in March.
The six-year Darfur conflict pitted government-backed militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of marginalising the region.
In recent years, militias on both sides of the conflict have fragmented, and some have switched allegiance. In many areas the fighting has descended into a free-for-all conflict involving bandits and rival tribes.
The recent surge of kidnappings has shocked humanitarian groups in the region, where abductions of foreign workers were almost unheard of before this year.
UN agencies and aid groups are running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur, helping 4.7 million people caught up in more than six years of fighting.