Two SA demining workers among Sudan arrests

A South African demining company on Sunday said that two of its employees were among four foreigners captured by the Sudanese military while on a United Nations landmine clearance contract in South Sudan.

State-owned firm Mechem CEO Ashley Williams said its workers—a South African and a local South Sudanese—were abducted with a British United Nations employee and a Norwegian in South Sudan.

“We are doing humanitarian landmine clearance on a UN contract and our members have full UN immunity. The abduction took place well within South Sudan territory,” he said.

Sudanese army spokesperson Sawarmi Khaled Saad on Saturday said the group were captured within Sudan’s borders in the tense Heglig oil area and brought to the capital Khartoum.

“This confirms what we said before, that South Sudan in its aggression against Heglig was supported by foreign experts,” he told reporters after the four were flown to Khartoum for “more investigation”.

South Sudanese Information Minister Barnaba Benjamin dismissed the Sudanese account as “nonsense”, telling Reuters the men were workers for aid groups and the UN and had been clearing mines.

Williams said the group were not in the north and were on a humanitarian mission with no military role.

“It happened right in Southern Sudan,” he told Agence France-Presse, saying the group were travelling south between two UN bases on the way back to Bentui.

“Then they grabbed them and drove back to Heglig with them where they then said they’ve arrested them in this disputed area while they weren’t there at all.”

A team remained in the area which the UN would bring out with protection and take to Bentui over fears of similar action, he said.

“It’s humanitarian work so the story of them being military advisors and this type of thing is completely and utterly nonsense and not true,” said Williams.

In the most serious fighting since the South’s independence, Juba’s troops occupied Sudan’s main oil region of Heglig for 10 days, a move which coincided with Sudanese air strikes against the South.

Sudan declared on April 20 that its troops had forced the Southern soldiers out of Heglig, but the South said it withdrew of its own accord.

New bombing accusations
More than three weeks of border fighting between Sudan and South Sudan’s 1 800km contested border has brought the African neighbours close to an all-out war, nine months after the South gained independence from Sudan under a 2005 settlement.

South Sudan’s army seized Heglig earlier this month but announced a withdrawal more than a week ago, bowing to pressure from the United Nations.

Benjamin said Sudan’s war jets dropped eight bombs on Panakuach in Unity state on Saturday. Sudan’s army could not be immediately reached for comment.

Benjamin also said two SPLA soldiers has been killed on Friday after South Sudan repulsed an attack by what it said was a Sudanese-backed rebel militia near Malakal in its Upper Nile state.

China and the African Union (AU) have stepped up diplomatic efforts to try and bring Juba and Khartoum back to the negotiating table.

The United States circulated on Thursday a draft resolution at the UN Security Council that warns both states of sanctions if they do not comply with an AU seven-point peace plan.
The deal urges both sides to cease hostilities within 48 hours and to withdraw troops from disputed areas.

The dispute has already halted most oil production in the two countries, damaging their fragile economies.—AFP, Reuters

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