Kidnapped Darfur peacekeepers make first contact


Four kidnapped South African peacekeepers have made their first contact with their mission in Sudan’s Darfur region today, a force spokesperson says.

“Now we have proof of life,” said Noureddine Mezni, spokesperson of the largest UN-funded peacekeeping mission in the world (UNAMID).
“We were able to talk to our colleagues, all four of them, and they are fine.”

The two men and two women were taken from just outside Darfur’s largest town Nyala five days ago, and a group purporting to be their captors told Reuters they were demanding a ransom of around $450 000.

A wave of kidnappings of foreign nationals in Sudan’s west has restricted aid operations to the more than 4 million people affected by the rebellion in the vast desert region, mostly by young armed men demanding money.

Reports from tribal leaders of money exchanging hands has fuelled the abductions, although the government denies paying any cash to the kidnappers.

Last month the last foreign hostage was freed. Red Cross worker Gauthier Lefevre was the longest-held hostage, spending 147 days in captivity before being rescued by Sudanese security forces. Sudan said it had arrested one member of the “criminal gangs” who abducted Lefevre but most remain at large.

Mezni said they had not had a request for ransom but that the mission’s policy was not to pay.

The kidnappings began last year after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Bashir dismisses the court, calling it a colonial conspiracy.

The western Darfur region has been troubled by seven years of conflict, pitting mostly non-Arab rebels against Sudan government forces and allied militias.