Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Aid group pulls out after Darfur workers kidnapped

AP , KHARTOUM

Sudanese refugees walk at a refugee camp at Our Cassoni Camp in northern Chad on Thursday. Three workers for Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped late on Wednesday in a government-controlled area in northern Darfur, Sudan.

PHOTO: AFP

Armed men stormed an aid agency compound in Darfur and kidnapped three Westerners, heightening fears that foreigners will be targeted in the backlash over the international arrest warrant for Sudan’s president.

The three workers for Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped late on Wednesday in a government-controlled area in northern Darfur, close to a stronghold of government-allied Arab militiamen known as janjaweed, officials said on Thursday.

The Sudanese government condemned the attack and denied any involvement. But officials quickly blamed the arrest warrant issued last week by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court accusing President Omar al-Bashir of war crimes in Darfur.

“Anything that goes wrong [since the warrant] onwards I personally attribute to the ICC decision,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Youssef said.

Ali Sadiq, another Foreign Ministry official, told Al-Jazeera television that his ministry had warned that the warrant “encourages lawlessness and armed groups to target aid groups and their workers.”

The kidnappers have demanded a ransom, said a report by the Sudan Media Center, a government-linked news Web site. Quoting the governor of North Darfur, the report said local government officials had begun negotiations.

“The kidnappers asked for a ransom and they reassured us that they don’t want violence,” Governor Osman Kebir was quoted as saying.

The report did not say how much money was demanded.

Kebir said he spoke to the kidnappers and the aid workers by telephone on a number delivered from the kidnappers and that the captives were in good condition, the report said.

Al-Bashir’s government has been warning since even before the warrant was issued on March 4 that the case could lead to revenge attacks by Sudanese, though it said it would try to protect aid workers, peacekeepers and other foreigners.

Sudan has vehemently denounced the warrant as a “colonialist” attempt to destabilize the country. After it was announced, Khartoum retaliated by expelling the 13 biggest aid groups working in Darfur, accusing them of helping the court.

The expulsion has sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis in the region, where the government and rebels have been fighting for six years and several million people rely on international agencies for food, shelter and water.

The Dutch and French branches of Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were among the expelled aid groups. But the abducted staffers belonged to its Belgian branch, which was allowed to remain along with the Spanish and Swiss branches and dozens of other smaller aid groups.

MSF said on Thursday that because of safety concerns all its branches would move their personnel out of Darfur to Khartoum — except for a small number working for the abducted staffers’ release.

“Evacuation will mean an interruption to many of MSF’s essential medical services in Darfur. MSF is extremely worried both for our abducted colleagues and for the populations that MSF teams had been providing medical aid to,” the group said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the US Embassy in Khartoum authorized the departure of nonessential staff, saying the security situation was “uncertain.”

Several Islamic fundamentalist groups and a militia in Darfur have made public threats to attack ICC supporters in Sudan. The threat was dismissed by Sudanese officials as an expression of “political support” for al-Bashir.

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