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Darfur kidnappers say aid workers to die if France does not meet demands

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April 12, 2009 (KHARTOUM) – Armed men in Sudan’s Darfur region said their abduction of two female aid workers was intended to send a signal to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last year won the release of staff of Zoe’s Ark.

The kidnappers call themselves "Falcons for the Liberation of Africa,” but according to Radio Dabanga, which interviewed the member of national parliament representing Ad el-Fursan where the abduction occurred, the abductors are former janjaweed of the Abbala tribe.

Abductors are ostensibly seeking judgment on the organization Zoe’s Ark, a French group once charged with abducting children to Europe; six Zoe’s Ark employees were convicted but then pardoned on March 31, 2008 by Chadian President Idriss Deby.

"Falcons for the Liberation of Africa” are publicly demanding that the Zoe’s Ark staff face a re-trial, but French officials have declined to say what the kidnappers are demanding in the direct negotiations. Actually, the workers’ employer itself says that it is leading the negotiations.

The aid workers, a Canadian and a French national, were kidnapped on the night of April 4-5 in Darfur and they say they are being treated well. They work for Aide Medicale Internationale, whose staff lost two Sudanese colleagues in February, gunned down by men on horseback.

The Canadian hostage, Stephanie Joidon, told AFP in a phone call on Sunday. "We are being treated well. We do not know where we are." The French abductee is named Claire Dubois.

The kidnappers already contacted a variety of international news outlets. In a telephone interview with France24 television, a man claiming to be one of the kidnappers threatened to kill the women unless France re-opens the trials of members of Zoe’s Ark.

The abduction comes soon after the release last week in Bindis, West Darfur, of two kidnapped workers of the French organization Triangle.

Four workers with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), three of them foreigners, were kidnapped March 11 at gunpoint by uniformed border guards, according to an eyewitness who spoke with Radio Dabanga. Another employee of a Canadian-headquartered aid group was shot dead March 23 when gunmen entered his living quarters.

The Government of Sudan expelled 13 aid groups from Sudan after March 4. Soon after the expulsion occurred, a UN official told Sudan Tribune that the move effectively represented the destruction of the aid effort as it had been constituted up till then.

Officials, including the president of Sudan, subsequently vowed to “Sudanize” aid efforts within one year, removing all the international groups.

During the past three years (from 2006 through 2008), more incidents of major violence against aid workers occurred in Sudan than in any other country in the world, according to a report released Wednesday by the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

(ST)

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