Kidnappers kill Chinese hostages in Sudan

By Alaa Shahine

KHARTOUM
Oct 27, 2008 (Reuters)

Kidnappers killed five Chinese oil workers on Monday out of nine they had been holding hostage in central Sudan for more than a week, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry blamed the Justice and Equality Movement, a Darfur rebel group, for seizing and killing the Chinese.

"Five were murdered. Two were able to escape with minor injuries," ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig said. The two workers who escaped were now in the hands of the government, Sadig said while the kidnappers were still holding the remaining two.

"This incident happened without any provocation," he told Reuters. JEM leaders were not available for comment.

The kidnapping was the third such incident in the energy-producing state of South Kordofan in the past year.

Analysts say the underdeveloped region could become another violent flashpoint. If the JEM had indeed carried out the kidnapping, it also showed that insecurity could spread from neighboring Darfur.

The nine workers were snatched near a small oil field where they were doing contract work for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). The company is a consortium led by China's CNPC that also includes India's ONGC, Malaysia's Petronas and Sudan's state-owned Sudapet.

Sadig said the kidnappers had demanded that Chinese oil firms leave the region.

"We call on the international community to condemn the Justice and Equality Movement," he said. "Nobody is condemning it for its actions."

'STRONGLY CONDEMNED'

The Chinese embassy in Khartoum could not be reached for comment, but China's Xinhua news agency said the embassy "strongly condemned" the killings.

The embassy also urged local authorities to continue efforts to find the two missing workers and to take steps to safeguard Chinese citizens in Sudan.

The Darfur rebel group has not confirmed or denied its involvement in the incident. It said it had forces in the area and warned that oil workers were legitimate military targets.

JEM seized five oil workers -- an Egyptian, an Iraqi and three Sudanese -- in October 2007 but released them later.

Local tribesmen have identified the head of the kidnappers as a man called Fudeili, a member of a sub-clan of the Arab al-Misseriya tribe called Awlad Omran.

Local officials said the kidnappers, whom one diplomat familiar with the issue called disaffected locals, probably wanted oil money.

Abdul-Rasoul al-Nur, a former governor of Kordofan and a Misseriya leader, said his tribe condemned the killings.

The International Crisis Group think-tank said last week the a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of war between north and south Sudan was at risk in South Kordofan "where many of the same ingredients" that produced the Darfur conflict existed.

South Kordofan is inhabited by Arab and African tribes who were mobilized during the north-south war and who remain polarized along tribal and political lines, the group said.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said in a statement Sudanese authorities would take "more security measures" to protect Chinese and foreign workers in the country.

A group of kidnappers had seized four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver in May. Three men managed to escape and one was released. Another man is believed dead.

 

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