Sudan kidnappers want Chinese oil firms out: report
Oct 24, 2008 (AFP)
Kidnappers of nine Chinese oil workers seized near a disputed oil district in Sudan want Chinese oil firms to leave the area in return for the hostages' release, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Friday.
"We don't have any material demands. We want Chinese companies to leave the region immediately because they work with the government," the daily Asharq Al-Awsat quoted the alleged leader of the group as saying.
The Saudi-owned newspaper identified the man as Abu Humaid Ahmad Dannay, and said he commands the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Kordofan.
Three Chinese engineers and and six other workers employed by the China National Petroleum Corporation in South Kordofan, a state which includes the disputed oil district of Abyei, were kidnapped on October 18.
Dannay, who Asharq Al-Awsat said belongs to the Arab Messeria tribe, said the hostages were in good health and were being well treated.
"We treat them according to the ethics of Muslims and serve them despite the language barrier. I can affirm that they are in good health now," he was quoted as saying.
The Sudanese government accuses JEM, the Darfur rebel group that attacked Khartoum last May, of orchestrating the kidnapping.
"From the first day we knew that JEM were responsible," said Ali Yousuf, director of protocol at the foreign ministry.
"Sudanese security forces are still looking for the Chinese in cooperation with the Chinese embassy in Khartoum. We want to free them safely," he said.
The Chinese workers were snatched in Heglig, adjacent to the flashpoint Abyei area, according to a diplomatic source in Khartoum.
Heglig lies near the line separating the former warring north and south, in the Muglad Basin where most of Sudan's proven oil reserves are found.
The Messeria were also blamed for the kidnapping of four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver in the same area in May. All five managed to escape or were released unharmed.
Neither the Chinese embassy nor the Sudanese government have released further information on the whereabouts of the oil workers or whether contact has been made with the kidnappers.
Diplomatic officials have said privately that they do not expect a speedy resolution to the hostage crisis.
In the past, Darfur rebels have kidnapped foreign oil workers from Sudanese oilfields, often targeting Chinese companies because of their strong ties with Khartoum, although all of those abducted eventually emerged unscathed.
In October 2007, Darfur rebels from JEM attacked an oilfield run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, a consortium involving China's CNPC.
Asharq Al-Awsat said a high-ranking JEM source neither confirmed nor denied that the kidnappers belong to the movement.
The newspaper quoted Dannay as admitting that the abduction was aimed at drawing attention to the lack of development in the region and the failure of oil companies operating there to help provide services or jobs for natives.
Abyei and surrounding areas are prey to sporadic violence between tribes aligned either with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum or with the administration in the south despite a 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war.
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