January 13, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Four Chinese nationals were among fifteen workers at a road company taken hostage at gunpoint in Sudan’s volatile Darfur region, an official said on Sunday.
- FILE - Chinese workers who escaped after being abducted arrive at Khartoum Airport January 30, 2012 (Reuters)
The unidentified assailants abducted the Chinese along with eleven Sudanese colleagues late on Saturday in al-Kouma locality near the North Darfur capital El-Fasher. They were all working for China’s Poly Group Corporation.
Mohamed Suleiman Rabih, mayor of al-Kouma locality, said the abduction took place 35 kilometres (22 miles) from al-Kouma adding that the kidnappers seized three of the company’s vehicles.
He denied that any deaths or injuries have occurred as a result of the incident.
No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction but some sources pointed fingers at Darfur rebels the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), while others blamed a splinter faction from Sudan Liberation Army belonging to Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM).
The hostages included one engineer and three drivers from China while the Sudanese group was comprised of workers and engineers.
Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA) reported that an 18-vehicle military convoy was now in pursuit of the kidnappers.
The mayor said the chase was suspended on Saturday after sunset but resumed on Sunday morning. he said that the gunmen likely fled to Jebel Marra in central Darfur.
He said that the company had declined police protection in the past when they moved to east al-Kouma on the ground that the situation is stable.
The latest incident has again highlighted the perils facing foreign workers in the restive region where a number of NGO workers and peacekeepers have been the target of abductions since 2009, with captors often demanding a ransom for their safe release.
Darfur has been a flashpoint for lawlessness and violence since rebel movements took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2003.
These mainly non-Arab tribes accuse Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and his government of neglecting and marginalising them.
The United Nations estimates as many as 300,000 people have been killed and almost 3 million people have been displaced during the ongoing conflict.
A year ago the rebels in Sudan’s troubled oil-producing South Kordofan State, which borders Darfur, kidnapped 29 Chinese construction workers. All were released unharmed about two weeks later.
It was blamed on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) - a rebel force in the border region with neighbouring South Sudan.
In 2008 five Chinese oil company workers were abducted near the disputed Abyei region and later founded dead.
China and Sudan maintain close bilateral relations driven mainly by oil exports from Sudan, which until the south’s secession was among the country’s top oil suppliers.
But as the Asian superpower continues to expand its operations in conflict regions, workers have increasingly been caught up in hostilities in several countries including Sudan.