South Africans kidnapped in Darfur ‘in good health’

Four South African peacekeepers from the joint United Nations-African Union (Unamid) mission who were kidnapped this week in the western Sudanese region of Darfur are “in good health,” Unamid told Agence France-Presse on Friday.

“We were able to talk to them this morning [Friday]. They are in good health,” Unamid spokesperson Nouredine Mezni said. “We are doing our outmost to secure their release.”

“The Sudanese authorities know the identity of the kidnappers but they want to make sure their release takes place in the best possible conditions,” Mezni said.

The kidnap of the four Unamid police — two men and two women– was confirmed on Wednesday. It is the largest single abduction of foreigners in the war-torn region.

Sunday’s kidnapping came as Sudan was holding its first competitive elections in more than two decades.

Election observers from the European Union had pulled out of war-torn Darfur, citing insecurity.

Unamid said on Monday that the four had been missing for 24 hours but did not immediately confirm their nationalities.

The alarm was raised on Monday when a colleague living in the same residence as the peacekeepers contacted the mission about their absence.

Staff of international organisations and peacekeepers are subject to a curfew in Darfur.

The peacekeepers’ last movement was reported at 4pm local time on April 11 as they left their team site just outside Nyala, Unamid said on Monday.

Wave of kidnappings
Darfur has been gripped by civil war since 2003. Over the past year the region has seen a wave of kidnappings of humanitarian workers and expatriates in general.

Since it was first deployed in January 2008, Unamid has also suffered a number of deadly attacks.

Nyala, the second largest city in Sudan, with two million residents, is the centre of operations for several humanitarian agencies based in Darfur.

The semi-desert region of Darfur had seen a lull in the kidnappings of foreigners after a year-long wave of abductions that seemed to have ended with the release in March of Gauthier Lefevre, a staffer with the international Red Cross.

Sudanese authorities had warned that Lefevre’s release did not signal the end of kidnappings in Darfur, carried out by groups of bandits affiliated to Arab tribes who seek ransoms.

Two of the peacekeeping force’s civilian staff were held for 100 days last year after being seized from their residence in Zalingei, West Darfur in August. — AFP

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