Sudanese authorities were working to free two French and Canadian aid workers who are “in good shape” after being kidnapped during the weekend in increasingly dangerous Darfur, an official said on Monday.
“They are in good shape,” foreign ministry official Ali Yussef said. “We are making every effort to free them in a peaceful way.”
The two international female staff from Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) were abducted at Ed el-Fursan in southern Darfur on Saturday night, said the French group, which has been targeted twice so far this year.
Two Sudanese AMI staff were also kidnapped and later released, a local official said.
The Sudanese Media Center, which is close to the country’s intelligence services, has said the kidnappers were demanding a ransom, but this was not possible to confirm.
The so far unidentified women were snatched on Saturday night from AMI offices south of South Darfur’s capital, Nyala, about 100km from the border with Chad, a local official said, requesting anonymity.
AMI said it “strongly deplores this kidnapping of members of its team who work daily to improve the health of the local population.”
The group, which has been providing medical relief in Ed el-Fursan since 2004, was spared from Khartoum’s decision last month to expel several nongovernmental aid organizations from Darfur.
“We were continuing our program. We weren’t targeted,” AMI spokesman Frederic Mar said.
The French authorities were alerted and the foreign ministry in Paris set up a crisis response cell to deal with the kidnapping, saying it was acting because the incident involved a French organization.
Canada’s department of foreign affairs said it was seeking information about the kidnapping.
Sudan expelled 13 aid agencies after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on March 4 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes including genocide in Darfur.
In February, two Sudanese workers for AMI were shot dead when their bus was attacked by men on horseback in southern Darfur. Four others were wounded in that attack.
On March 23, a Sudanese man working for a Canadian aid group was shot dead at his home in Darfur, reportedly because his attackers wanted his satellite telephone.
Four workers with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), three of them foreigners, were kidnapped at gunpoint from their Darfur home on March 11.
They were all released four days later, with no signs of violence or a ransom being paid, Sudanese and MSF officials said.
That abduction was the first of international aid workers since civil war erupted in Darfur in 2003, and took place just 10 days after the ICC issued the arrest warrant for Bashir.
“This is a very worrying new phenomenon,” a source familiar with the security situation in Darfur said, requesting anonymity. “This is a new trend towards humanitarian actors in Darfur.”
US President Barack Obama’s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, said on Saturday the Darfur crisis was “on the brink of deepening” as he called for renewed cooperation with the government and an end to hostilities.