Sudan locates area of Chinese hostages

By Alaa Shahine

Oct 22, 2008 (Reuters)

Sudanese authorities have pinpointed the area where Arab tribesman have been holding nine Chinese oil workers hostage for four days, a provincial official and a senior tribal leader said on Wednesday.

The sources, however, offered contradictory information as to whether authorities were in talks with the kidnappers, who they identified as a sub-clan of the al-Misseriya Arab tribe called Awlad Omran.

"Negotiations are underway through local leaders. They (the captors) have promised they would keep the Chinese workers safe," said Abdul-Rasoul al-Nur, a former governor of Kordofan and a leader of the Misseriya tribe.

Omar Suleiman Adam, the governor of South Kordofan, said the hostages were located in an area near the small town of al-Debeb. "It is a very rough area," he said in remarks published by the pro-government Akhir Lahza newspaper.

Adam said the kidnappers have been unreachable since switching their satellite phones off on Monday.

South Kordofan, which is located to the south of Khartoum and borders the war-torn Darfur region, is inhabited by Arab nomads and other tribes that have protested about not receiving a fair share of the oil revenues taken out of the energy-rich region.

The nine hostages were snatched near a small 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.

A local official familiar with the matter said authorities were working for the men's release through "peaceful means."

"We do not want to (fight) those people because we want the hostages freed unharmed," he told Reuters on condition of anonymity in order not to compromise the release efforts.

Nur and Adam identified the leader of the captors as a man called Fudeili and played down his links with the Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The government initially blamed JEM for the attack but later said the kidnappers had probably no political demands.

Nur said Fudeili probably wanted a government amnesty and a share of jobs in the oil sector for his tribe.

"These people have not even smelled the oil that is being drilled out of the region," he said.

A group of the same clan kidnapped four Indian oil workers and their driver in mid-May and demanded a share of oil revenues. Four men returned unharmed while the fifth who escaped his captors has not been seen since and is believed to be dead.

According to GNPOC's Web site, the consortium produces more than 300,000 barrels of crude per day (bpd) in Sudan's Blocks 1, 2 and 4. Sudan produces about 500,000 bpd of crude and China is the biggest foreign investor in the African country.

Figures from the United Nations show that South Kordofan has only 49 health care centres serving nearly 2.3 million people.


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